On Feb. 19, Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a bill that increases the state’s minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2025. The state’s wage, which is currently $8.25 per hour, will rise each year on Jan. 1 until it reaches $15 throughout the next six years.
In the light of this choice, the discourse between both political sides of the continuum is polarizing, which is evident in the fact that a whopping zero Republican votes went into passing this law. However, the law does effectively answer to the never-ending issues of income equality and poverty.
To put the statewide issue of poverty into perspective, according to the poverty guidelines of the Department of Health and Human Services, working for the state wage of $8.25 per hour brings home only about $17,160 in total annual income. Of the current estimated population of 12.73 million people in Illinois, 12.6 percent of them receive incomes below the poverty line. Clearly, the current minimum wage has kept up with neither inflation nor the cost of living.
To some, especially those who assume that the key to being released from poverty is just “hard work”, that might seem like nothing but a personal problem among those affected. It isn’t, though. If acknowledging that many people cannot afford to live securely doesn’t move you enough, knowing where your own hard-earned money is going might.
When people cannot afford to live independently or to support their families, obviously, they turn to government subsidy programs for financial support, aka welfare. When minimum wage rises, because it will ultimately help people better sustain themselves, the government would have to contribute less of taxpayer money to public assistance and would be better able to distribute it into other areas. Everybody wins, and maybe the skewed viewpoint and gripe that everyone receiving government assistance is just kicking back and eating up all of the taxpayer money might finally see its end.
That being said, it’s important to assert that I’m not suggesting that financial assistance services shouldn’t be funded, I could actually sit here and even argue that they’re not being funded enough. Rather, it’s unfortunate that we have 1,879,000 people in Illinois as recorded by the USDA having to receive SNAP benefits because even with jobs they would otherwise be facing extreme food insecurity. Again, our current wage is not up to speed with the cost of living.
Everyone who is capable and works at least deserves to live without worrying if they can afford their next meal or afford to pay their necessary bills. There should be no ifs, ands, or buts about that!