What was minimum wage when you had your first job?

What was the hourly rate on your first paycheck? Was it minimum wage for its time?  How much more or less than current minimum wage?

Plug that number into this calculator and see if the answer surprises you 

More often than not, the minimum wage most adults remember comes out to be the target starting wage of the ordinance.  In other words, our minimum wage is effectively lower than it was during the 1970s. The stories about businesses not being able to provide jobs due to the increased wage doesn’t hold water: they used to pay more, via dollars that had more purchasing power.

That calculator doesn’t even tell the full story – while minimum wage has not kept pace with inflation, it still doesn’t meet “living wage,” or the minimum employment earnings necessary to meet a family’s basic needs while also maintaining self-sufficiency. Cook County’s numbers probably aren’t an accurate measure for Evanston (it would be helpful if we would provide MIT with the data they need to calculate that figure.)

I recently created a Facebook group, Back On Their Feet – Evanston, IL to try to support people in Evanston who are struggling. In it, anyone can post any need, either on behalf of themselves or on behalf of a person they know of, and the group tries to provide solutions. It has been educational, to say the least.

For instance, I’ve learned that low wages are no longer just for “young people starting out.” Almost to a person, the people we are helping are working and making $10 to $11/hr. frequently in more than one job. Almost all of them are adults who work as caregivers with some kind of additional education – a CNA certificate, early childhood hours or elder care hours. 

These people are being exploited by their employers, pure and simple: I’ve found they typically live in substandard housing, frequently face eviction because they have no funds to cover emergencies, sleep on the floor because they can’t afford beds, have to use food pantries and food banks to get through the month, and use all kinds of taxpayer-funded and charitable services set up for people who aren’t able to work despite working hard and having tried to educate themselves explicitly in order to access a decent wage and be independent.

We can’t continue to allow good people to suffer in this way.

In particular, the healthcare sector that exploits them is not going to pick up and move out of Evanston (especially not elder care, which is a primary employer of this nature.) Frankly, if other employers leave because they won’t provide a living wage and sick leave – good. I don’t want businesses that live off the misery of others in my hometown…and that is what the current minimum wage allows. 

If Skokie and Wilmette want to be exempt, so be it. This is at least a regional effort, and the municipalities exempting themselves are simply on the wrong side of history. In my opinion, instead of matching them, Evanston should prepare itself to sue Skokie and Wilmette to recover social service/policing costs due to Evanston residents’ low-wage jobs in those municipalities.

It’s also important to carefully read the abstract of the Seattle study that is being held up as a reason not to raise wages. I’m a little concerned at how numbers are being played with in the survey – for instance, it states that there was a 9% reduction in hours once the $13 wage increase went through.  

Keep in mind that 9% of 40 hours is 3.6 hours, or over a full year of employment would be a decrease of 187 hours – so I’m not sure how they make the leap to an 11 – person employer reducing their staff to 10 people.

The study also states expressly “These analyses are designed to reveal the impact on the entire Seattle low -wage labor market and do not necessarily reveal the full effect of the minimum wage increases on individual workers. Most importantly, our data do not capture employment or earnings in contract or “gig” jobs, work paid “off the books,” self-employment, or work done outside the City of Seattle

We may not find the same things we found in this study in other cities, states, or at the national
level.There are multiple factors that make Seattle and this minimum wage law unique, including
high housing costs and relatively large increases in the minimum wage beginning at what had
been the nation’s highest state minimum wage.”
I firmly believe we won’t solve any of the educational and employability (and probably violence) problems we have in Evanston if we don’t get people’s basic human needs met *first.* Keep in mind that the money to address those ills comes out of the taxpayer’s pocket, an issue the Seattle study conveniently sidesteps.  Providing for a basic living wage and the road to financial independence is the easiest first step to address this problem. 

I hope to see the wage increase go forward as intended.

Thank you,
Michele Hays

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