Illinois voters have say on minimum wage in November

Illinois voters will have their say on raising the state’s minimum wage from $8.25 to $10 an hour by 2015 in a non-binding referendum at election booths in November.

This year, four other states have scheduled to raise their minimum wage to at least $10 an hour. Massachusetts is set to be the fifth — and the highest — after its House of Representatives recently voted to increase its minimum wage to $11 by 2017.

Gov. Pat Quinn, who signed a bill on Sunday that put the measure on the ballot, called for a minimum wage of at least $10 an hour in his State of the State address in January. A bill to raise minimum wage has been approved the committee level, but the Senate has not voted on it yet. State Senator Kimberly Lightford, who sponsored the bill, said she is working to move the measure to the floor, but the bill still needs further discussion.

Quinn hopes the referendum will drive Democratic turnout and that the results will make lawmakers feel more comfortable about passing an increase.

In Chicago, 86 percent of voters in 103 precincts supported raising the city’s minimum wage to $15 in a non-binding referendum on March 18. Most of the support came from African-American wards on the South and West sides.

A $10 minimum wage would increase a full-time worker’s salary from $17,000 a year to $21,800. The Federal Poverty Threshold is $19,790 for a family of three.

Women comprise more than half of the 400,000 minimum wage workers in Illinois and nearly two-thirds of the 3.6 million in the U.S. who make at or below the federal minimum wage. In addition, 28.7 percent of minimum wage workers in Illinois and 27 percent in the U.S. are parents supporting at least one child.

Many business groups, like the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, oppose raising the minimum wage in Illinois, saying it will decrease hiring and make Illinois less competitive with surrounding states.

Many cities have either proposed or passed higher floors than what their states require. However, they have faced opposition from business groups and state lawmakers from both parties.

San Francisco has put a $15 minimum wage on the ballot this fall, with six neighboring cities on the East Bay following suit, though at lower rates. Seattle has already approved increasing its minimum wage to $15, though it now faces a legal challenge from the International Franchise Association, which claims the law unfairly treats franchises as big businesses by requiring them to pay the $15 wage earlier.

(Note: If the state minimum wage differs from the federal rate, then the higher rate generally applies.)

President Barack Obama is visiting Minnesota this week, which recently passed a minimum wage hike and will be among the nation’s leaders at $9.50 by 2016. He signed an executive order in January requiring $10.10 an hour for workers under federal contract. His effort to raise the federal rate to $10.10 was blocked by the Senate in April.

About 28 million workers would benefit from a wage increase to $10.10. Oxfam America created a map that shows the percentages of workers who would benefit by Congressional district.

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