Chicagoans Deserve a Living Wage

Last month at City Council, I joined 10 of my colleagues in calling for a referendum on increasing the minimum wage in our city to $15 per hour. This referendum will be on the March ballot in 20 Wards and will specifically ask:

Shall the City of Chicago require a minimum wage of $15 per hour for employees of companies that perform work within the City of Chicago where the employing company had annual gross revenues in excess of $50 Million in the last tax year?

I had recently tasked one of my staff to look at how we could go about introducing something to this affect, unilaterally. As I've said in this blog and everywhere else, our Federal and State Governments are rendered inert by their incompetence and petty political considerations. Anything of real value that needs to be done by government will have to come from, at least start at, the municipal level.

Let's remove the justly angry populist political argument at the moment (don't worry, I'll get there later) and just look at why raising the wage to $15 makes economic sense.

In Illinois today, an estimated 400,000 people survive on minimum wage, which is $8.25 per hour. This gives these folks the grand annual total of only $17,000 a year if they work full-time. Behind these workers are hundreds of thousands of other people -- children, spouses, parents -- who rely on that worker for financial support. In our state nearly 110,000 people with full time jobs technically live in poverty.

This is a complete disgrace. Obviously, anyone who works full-time for a living should not be living in poverty. It's the antithesis of what we've been raised to believe about America.

It's an indisputable fact that $17,000 a year is not enough to live off. I'd love to offer any CEO or COO or whatever to take such a Mel Brooks in Life Stinks type-challenge. Because the current minimum wage is unlivable, many of these workers and their families have to rely on food stamps and other means-tested programs.

So basically your tax dollars are subsidizing these necessary programs, because multi-billion dollar companies don't want to pay their workers a living wage. It's a degrading and perverse corporate welfare.

The two America's is real and growing. Income inequality is probably, under climate change, the most important challenge of our generation. If we don't stop this trend we'll end up like many other countries whose super-rich live in luxury in the central parts of town, while the poor eat their garbage in outlaying shanty towns.

The banal arguments that will be made against this are already disproven. These workers are not teenagers; the average age is 29. Raising the minimum wage actually helps the economy (more money = more spending).

But more important than all these things, it's simply the fair thing to do.

You can join this campaign and find out more about the ballot initiative here.