U.S. House OKs $15 minimum wage

Illinois congressional delegation votes along party lines in effort to carry state minimum nationwide

Demonstrators lobby for a $15-an-hour minimum wage in Oak Park in 2016. (Flickr/Bob Sampson)

Demonstrators lobby for a $15-an-hour minimum wage in Oak Park in 2016. (Flickr/Bob Sampson)

By Ted Cox

Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives approved a national $15-an-hour minimum wage Thursday, although it’s largely symbolic because the Republican-controlled Senate is unlikely to follow suit.

Even in the House, the 231-199 vote was mostly along party lines, with just three Republicans voting in favor and six Democrats voting against. The Illinois delegation in the House voted entirely on party lines, with the 13 Democrats in favor and all five Republicans against.

Nonetheless, U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos of Moline cheered passage, while citing Illinois as a leader in the movement to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

“All across our region, I hear from hardworking men and women who haven’t gotten a raise in years — because too often Washington works for the wealthy few instead of the hardworking men and women who power this country,” Bustos said in a statement. “I’m proud of Gov. Pritzker’s leadership raising the minimum wage in our state and, by giving 33 million Americans a much-needed raise, this legislation would make sure this important progress isn’t limited to Illinois. In Congress, I’ll continue to stay laser-focused on growing Illinoisans’ paychecks and creating good-paying jobs that can support a family.”

Gov. Pritzker signed the $15-an-hour Illinois minimum wage into law in February, a month into his administration. It will hike the $8.25 state minimum wage in incremental steps to $15 in 2025 starting with a $1 increase next year.

The U.S. House amended the Raise the Wage Act at the 11th hour to add an extra year to the process so that the national minimum wage would likewise rise in incremental steps until reaching $15 an hour by 2025. The act also would phase out the sub-minimum wage for tipped workers.

Yet, according to The New York Times, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky is on record as saying he won’t allow it to proceed. President Trump said a month ago that he was “looking at” a hike in the minimum wage, although he’s done little if anything to get McConnell and Republicans in the Senate to reconsider.

As it stands, the United States hasn’t raised its minimum wage in 10 years, when it was set at $7.25 in 2009. Congress recently set a record for the longest stretch without an increase in the federal minimum wage since it was first adopted in 1938.

“Nearly half of my constituents will see an increase in their paychecks, a majority of whom will be young Latinas,” said U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia of Chicago. “Passage of this bill is long overdue, and I am proud to take this step to give working Americans a well-deserved and needed raise.”

Garcia cited the Economic Policy Institute in saying workers have suffered the equivalent of a 20 percent pay cut as a result of inflation, adding, “In Illinois’s 4th Congressional District, this bill will add a total annual increase of over $186 million to the paychecks of my constituents, improving the quality of life for over 177,400 workers. In addition, the passage of this bill will do away with tipped workers in the service industry, who are currently paid well below the federal minimum wage.”

The Congressional Budget Office forecast that more than doubling the federal minimum wage would lift pay for 27 million U.S. workers and raise 1.3 million households out of poverty. But it also forecast 1.3 million job losses for low-wage workers.

Other experts have disputed that, however. The Illinois Economic Policy Institute released a study a year ago on Chicago’s move to a $13-an-hour minimum wage that found: “Overall, the higher minimum wage has been associated with an increase in worker incomes but little to no impact on employment or the number of private business establishments.”

ILEPI released a separate study earlier this year that found that the state $15 minimum would actually have the greatest impact on workers outside Chicago, especially those in Rockford and central Illinois.