Aug. 19--More than 4 out of 5 voters back Mayor Rahm Emanuel's proposal to significantly increase Chicago's minimum wage in the coming years, even as it remains unclear whether the plan will ever be called for a City Council vote.
Support for raising the city's minimum wage rate from $8.25 to $13 an hour in 2018 was strong across racial, income, age and gender lines, a new Chicago Tribune poll found.
Poll respondent Anna Marie Young said she supports a wage hike even if she has to pay a little more for products and services.
"Why not give them more money so that they can take care of themselves and have some dignity?" said Young, a 73-year-old retired analytical chemist from the Portage Park neighborhood. "I have great sympathy for people who rely on minimum wage."
Though Young and many other Chicagoans back the increase, it's not a sure thing that the proposal will become reality. There are no plans for aldermen to consider Emanuel's proposal until after the Nov. 4 election, when voters across Illinois will be asked if they back a minimum wage of $10 an hour.
Democrats hope that advisory referendum will boost turnout in a year when U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin and Gov. Pat Quinn are running for re-election and campaigning against income inequality. If Chicago raised its minimum wage to $13 an hour before the statewide election, some of the air could be taken out of the issue in the heavily Democratic city.
Conversely, if the General Assembly ends up raising Illinois' minimum wage to $10 an hour, that could relieve some of the pressure on the City Council to take Chicago's rate even higher. Emanuel won't say whether he'll keep pushing for a $13-an-hour city minimum wage in that situation.
"I'm not going to answer hypotheticals at this point," the mayor recently told the Tribune. "If the state acts, I'll bring the (city) task force back together and see what we want to do."
The mayor set up his task force on the issue in May, nine days before several aldermen signed onto a nationwide movement of low-wage workers seeking to boost the rate to $15 an hour -- a level they say would allow them to pay rent on time, buy food and support a family.
David Martinez, 60, a retired operating engineer from the Far Southeast Side, said he can identify with those kinds of problems. He said he lived on minimum wage during the 1970s after being laid off from a steel mill. With too little money to support himself, he lived with his mother.
Today's minimum wage has not kept up with inflation, making it tough for workers to advance in life, he noted. "Instead of going forward, they just try to survive," said Martinez, who lives in the East Side neighborhood.
But other poll respondents say a higher minimum wage could backfire. Among them was Richard Young, 66, a semiretired bar manager who said he worries that a wage hike would lead to layoffs. Businesses likely would eliminate a couple of positions and have other workers pick up the slack to pay for the raise, he said.
"(The increase) would hurt the people that need it the most," said Young, who lives in the Portage Park neighborhood but is no relation to Anna Marie Young.
Joseph Zack, 60, shared those concerns, saying he hasn't been able to find a minimum wage job in the city and worries that if the minimum wage were to increase, companies would cut jobs, and landing employment would become even more difficult.
Additionally, Zack worried that a higher minimum wage would raise the price of food and other products. "A lot of people won't be able to afford the increase," said Zack, of Little Village.
Labor economists have said that modest increases to the minimum wage do not have a significant impact on employment. Other academic research has found that minimum wage hikes increase consumer spending.
Some critics say a higher minimum wage in Chicago than the rest of the state could hurt the city, particularly if businesses cross borders into nearby suburbs. Emanuel has said a higher Chicago minimum wage is justified because of the higher cost of living in the city, although he has not committed to pushing for a council vote if the state takes action.
That uncertainty hasn't stopped the mayor from talking up the idea of a higher minimum wage during his public appearances, which keeps his proposal front and center as city campaign season approaches. Emanuel is asking voters to elect him to a second term in late February, and the minimum wage push could help him counter critics who dub him "Mayor 1 Percent," in part because of his strong backing from the city's financial community.
The issue could be a winner for Emanuel among African-American and lower-income voters. The two groups are among the least satisfied with the mayor's overall job performance but also show the highest level of support for a minimum wage increase. Among black voters and those with household incomes of less than $50,000 a year, 9 out of 10 support the proposal, according to the poll.
Opposition was greatest among white voters and those making more than $100,000, but overall strong majorities in both groups supported the wage hike. The poll found 78 percent of white voters and 71 percent of voters in wealthier households backed the idea.
The poll was conducted by APC Research Inc. The firm interviewed 800 registered city voters over cell and landline phones Aug. 6-12. The survey has a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points.
Although Emanuel's proposal has broad voter support across the spectrum, differences of opinion run the gamut, from retailers and restaurateurs who oppose the move to liberals who want to see the wage rise even higher, to $15 an hour.
Under the mayor's plan, the minimum wage would increase in each of the next three years by $1.25, with a $1 increase in 2018. After that, annual increases would be pegged to the rate of inflation.
Tipped employees, like waiters, would see their wages increased by $1 to $5.95 over the next two years.
(c)2014 the Chicago Tribune
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Original headline: Chicago Tribune poll: Vast majority of Chicago voters back $13 minimum wage
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