PI Original Ellyn Fortino Wednesday September 2nd, 2015, 11:25am

Nearly 1.5 Million IL Workers Could Benefit From A $12 Federal Minimum Wage

A recent report shows that 1.5 million Illinois workers could be affected by a $12 federal minimum wage, which is being proposed under the "Raise the Wage Act."

Increasing the federal minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2020 could impact 35 million workers, including nearly 1.5 million in Illinois.

That's according to a recent report by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI).

The think tank looked at the potential impacts of the "Raise the Wage Act," which U.S. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Washington) and U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA,3) jointly introduced in April.

Under the Raise the Wage Act, the federal hourly minimum wage would increase gradually from the current figure of $7.25 to $12 by 2020. After hitting $12, the federal minimum wage would be indexed annually to the overall median wage.

The Murray-Scott legislation would also phase out the tipped minimum wage, which has been frozen at $2.13 an hour for 24 years.

Illinois' minimum wage is $8.25 an hour. In Chicago it's $10 and set to go up to $13 by 2019.

Of the nearly 1.5 million workers in Illinois who could be impacted directly or indirectly by the Raise the Wage Act, more than half are women and over two-thirds are at least 25 years old. More than one-third of African-American and Hispanic Illinois workers would see a raise, as would 38 percent of single moms in the state.

Some 17 million children nationwide, including 744,000 in Illinois, have at least one parent who would see a wage increase under the measure.

"The average minimum wage worker is not a teenager working after school to earn some extra spending cash. The reality is that these are older workers who often have families to support," EPI economic analyst David Cooper said in a statement. "Raising the minimum wage, eliminating the lower minimum wage for tipped workers, and indexing the wage floor to median wages will improve the well-being of millions of workers and their families and will prevent low-wage workers from getting left behind again going forward."

If the Raise the Wage Act were implemented, affected Illinois workers could see a collective wage increase of $3.5 billion, according to the report. And annual incomes for impacted Illinois workers could increase by an average of $2,400, EPI calculates.

Opponents of raising the minimum wage argue that it could lead to job losses and higher prices for consumers. 

But proponents point out that the nation's minimum wage has not kept up with inflation.

Today's federal minimum wage would be $9.54 an hour if it had been linked to inflation in 1968. That's the year when the value of the minimum wage, then at $1.60 an hour, was at a peak high, and the national unemployment rate was under 4 percent. A $12 federal minimum wage by 2020 represents a nearly 11 percent increase over the 1968 inflation-adjusted minimum wage.

"The minimum wage was established to make sure that regular employment would provide workers with the means to a decent quality of life," Cooper said. "Lawmakers have let it erode for so long that today a parent working full-time at the minimum wage doesn't earn enough to be above the poverty line."

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