While other communities, including Chicago, have responded to concerns about economic pressure on lower income residents by raising the minimum wage, there’s been no significant movement toward taking such action here in Evanston.

In a recent interview, Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl said she’s not heard of any push for a local increase in the minimum wage. Tisdahl, who says she supports a minimum wage increase at the state level, said she’s concerned that a local increase could prove damaging to restaurants and other businesses in Evanston that hire a lot of low-wage workers.

While Evanston aldermen have spent months considering a plan to toughen the city’s so-called inclusionary housing ordinance and are scheduled to debate it again at a meeting in September, other ideas for addressing the gap between the income and expenses of many residents have so far gone nowhere.

Mayor Tisdahl, in her state of the city address in March, suggested “micro units” — apartments smaller than those now permitted under the city code — as an approach that’s worked in other cities. And, in April Community Development Director Mark Muenzer said he’d begun a preliminary review of such options. But no actual proposal along those lines has emerged yet for City Council consideration.

In March, the Daily Northwestern reported that some community activists have been interviewing low wage workers here to document their troubles, but despite holding individual meetings with aldermen, that hasn’t led to a proposal for action on the minimum wage issue.

Meanwhile, Seattle opted last year to gradually raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour and New York is considering a similar proposal. Chicago aldermen voted for a $13 minimum wage. And Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has endorsed the fight for a $15 minimum wage.

Although higher than the federal minimum wage of $7.25, the rate in Evanston remains at the state-mandated $8.25 an hour.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. Shall we lead or follow?
    Evanston is a community that values social justice… we should lead the way on this for smaller communities (by following the examples of several larger). A living wage would do this and as some economists believe could actually put more money/spending into circulation locally!

    Respectfully, Brian G. Becharas

    1. No thanks

      $31,200 a year to do a job that literally a 9 -year-old could do?

      I wonder what effect that might have on business closings, ability to get one of those jobs, layoffs, etc.?

      If your daily job functions can be replaced by a robot, literally, you have no say in what pay you "deserve."


      1. I agree that a $15 per hour

        I agree that a $15 per hour minimum wage would likely be too high for Evanston (and Chicago) given the cost of living and median full-time wage. I don't think your rhetoric is productive (though funny comment about my old bike)… 

        Like I said in my other post, I believe Evanston should instead phase in a $13 minimum wage by 2019 and then peg it to CPI inflation. That would represent ~$24,000 per year in 2015 dollars, working 40 hours per week (assuming only 2% inflation).

        If a business model mostly relies on all of your employees being on Medicaid and food stamps, perhaps the owner should make a better one…

        1. Your personal living expenses not relevant

          Your personal living expenses have literally no factor in what a job pays. ZERO.  A job's pay is based on supply and demand for that job.

          "OK we'd like to bring you on board. this jobs salary is $28,000.00 a year.  Oh wait…I see here you have a large mortgage, some credit card debt, and 4 children.  the slary is now $100,000.00 a year!"


          1. Chicagoland Exceptionalism deserve $15 per hour ?

            Many people think they are entitled to $15 per hour, but what they don't realize is they're not providing $15 of added value per hour. People need to recognize that their skills, experience, education, and other contributions they bring to the workforce will impact their compensation.

            Showing up to work and providing a commodity oriented service won't generate much value or compensation. What people fail to recognize is that even though they live in the Chicagoland area, that they are competing for jobs with people from Africa, Asia and all parts of the world. Just go visit the slums in Mumbai, Nairobi or Sao Paulo and you will see millions of people who want to work and improve their lives.

            $15 per hour sounds politically correct in Chicagoland, but isn't economically realistic.

          2. Comparative value of lives

            There's a certain arrogance to this line of reasoning. When someone working a 40 hour week isn't earning enough to buy food or have a place to live, something is wrong in the value equation.

            Why is the life of the owner of the food stores and the rental property valued more highly than that of the person working in the business or living in the 'lords' property? The too low paid worker is enslaved and the extension to the logical conclusion is that unless corrected, the low paid soul will eventually be unable to buy the food, goods, or housing that sustain the lifestyle of the paymasters.

            Mumbai examples are simply further down the road and support the point. The developed world has long felt entitled to higher income than the less developed. Until they realize they need markets for finished products … Only then do they allow wages to rise just enough to enhance demand, but scream should that rise achieve a level of becoming competitive with their products.

            In summary, there deserves to be a wage floor that lets a soul live in dignity of they work diligently full time. What do you earn when equated to a 40 week, time for dollar proposition? Why is your life worth more than your fellows?

  2. Bring In self service

    I'm sure all companies will agree with upping the minimum wage eventually; as soon as the technology is proven to have self serve kiosks that can take the human's place. McDonald's is already testing it all over.

    1. Self Serve to fast food ?
      I would not be surprised in the next 5-10 years if Burger–King, McDonalds, Taco Bell and others to install kiosks that can take orders and in different languages. That would speed-up service where there is a language barrier or customers don’t know what they want and have to student the menu board which may not be laid-out the way they want it.
      Evanston has a number of language groups because of the university but also a large influx of Hispanics, french speaker from the Caribbean and other areas. Fast food places in Chicago and some other suburbs may not have the diverse crowd from a university but an area like west Devon or Argyle in Chicago or many other areas probably have as many language issues. The customer service and cost saving may make such changes meaningful in many urban cities and thus for the companies.
      You already see even some casual dining restaurants experimenting with terminals or order and pay for food.

      Anyone living before the mid-70s will remember most if not all gas stations had [and I think the state required] attendants at gas stations to fill the car. I doubt many places do that anymore—I don’t know if you can even get an attendant to clean your windshield or check your oil/radiator water.

  3. Very Important Issue

    Thank you Bill for again bringing up this very important issue. With all this talk of affordable housing, I am surprised the city council has not yet seriously considered addressing the income side of the problem.  

    I strongly urge the City of Evanston to adopt a minimum wage ordinance that mirrors and eventually matches Chicago's policy ($10 in 2015, $10.50 in 2016, $11 in 2017, $12 in 2018, and $13 in 2019, indexed annually to the Consumer Price Index (CPI) after 2019). With the gradual phase-in and Chicago already making this same change, the vast majority of Evanston businesses should be able to comfortably make the adjustment. Some business may even end up being better off afterwards due to lower turnover. 

    I had my bike that was locked to a bike rack by the Main St. EL stolen recently. If the opportunity cost of not working were higher, perhaps I would still have that bike…

  4. Facts are messy things—Minimum Wage issues
    Almost all people would agree that $8.25 an hour makes it very difficult for a person to live. The question is what are the consequences of getting there.
    For a teen or someone needing to get some job experience [showing some skills, dependability, etc.] for the short-term it may be worth taking such a job. Others may have no job skills or any record of dependability on jobs.
    However people need to consider the effects of a wage increase.
    If the current wage is $8.25 and you raise it by $6.75 by using funds from ‘executives’ salaries, each $1 million would provide 74 workers who work 40 hours a week with the $6.75 increase. What then should be the salary and reduction for the ‘executive’—corporation, university President, university sports coaches [there is a lot of money university officers could get from sports programs—how would alumni/fans respond esp. if the selection of coaches became more difficult]? What about salary of corporation managers or franchise holders of less say a Burger-King who have put their capital at risk for the franchise ?
    What is the effect on prices charged if you can’t get the funds from franchise, managers, corporate executives ? How will stockholders respond if in addition to cuts in salaries of executives are made, you have lower income and have to reduce dividends and see lower stock valuations ?
    If you bring the wage to $15 from $8.25, what will the employee with two years experience making $12 or three year employee making $15 says ? Or even higher on the wage scale ? They will feel cheated if a new employee makes the same or more than their current wage given their experience. Since people see wages as ‘relative’ as well as ‘absolute’, they will want a raise to move them up above those making the new minimum wage to reflect their experience, knowledge and seniority. How much—maybe their $15 wage raised to $20, and upward the employee wage scale. Now the question will be how do you pay for their increases as well as the $8.25 to meet the new $15 minimum wage.
    Using Burger-King as an example. If they have six workers per eight hour shift, the $8.25 increase means $360 extra per shift. If they serve 480 means during the eight hour shift [just a guess] that would mean a 75 cent increase in cost per meal—which we assume is paid by the customer. For a $5.00 meal that is a 15% increase. Will customers pay that, reduce their purchase, go elsewhere, pack their own lunch? Burger-King and McDonalds operate on a 1-3% margin—i.e. for every $1 spent they make 1 to 3 cents. That is further reduced by fees banks charge them when a debit or credit card is used.
    It is of course possible firms will hire older workers with a proven work record and skills. They may also look for ways to mechanize the work so fewer workers are needed—are you better off at $8.25 or a $15 minimum wage and no job?
    Stores can always try to automate and reduce employees. E.g. orders online or at Kiosk, pay with an ‘app’, new machines to prepare food. Have longer wait lines for service—customers stay away. They can reduce facilities like public washrooms, or pull Cash Stations, or stop credit/debit payments.
    As the minimum increases it is the teens and low education/skill that will be hurt. Older more experienced workers will be hired instead and teens will not get the first jobs that will give them experience to land later jobs.
    The New York Times Aug. 2 had an article about the company that decided to pay $15 and the backlash. Workers at or near that wage complained and even quit—i.e. new inexperienced employees were paid as seasoned workers.

  5. What a wage is

    A wage is nothing more than you selling your time/expertise to another in which you both benefit.  If your time and expertise can make another more wealthy, he will have to share a portion of that wealth with you, via a higher salary, or you will go elsewhere to someone who will share with you.  Everyone has time, but expertise is gained thru education.

  6. Why not learn from other cities first?
    Almost all of the empirical evidence we have about the effects of minimum wage increases is from instances of small, one-time increases (on the order of 10-20%). Furthermore no (local) minimum wage in the US has ever been tied to inflation, as far as I know.

    What would be the effects of an increase from $8.25 to $13 or $15, and/or tying the minimum wage to inflation? I have no idea.

    People can come up with theoretical models making almost any prediction but there is no reason to strongly believe that any particular one of them is correct. Maybe it will greatly improve the lives of low income workers with minimal negative effect on business. Maybe it will cause businesses to drastically cut low wage labor and start to invest seriously in technological substitutes, hurting both workers and businesses. Professional academic economists disagree. It’s not an easy question.

    Seattle and other cities making these large changes are doing a huge national service. We get to see the results without risking the bad outcome of businesses leaving or never coming to Evanston and low income workers losing their jobs (and if that did happen, how long would it take to reverse the effects?) Furthermore it would be much harder politically to reduce the minimum wage once increased, even if it was the right thing to do, than in the future increase it to a higher level

    Why not take advantage of the fact that other cities have chosen to undertake these experiments? The prudent thing to do is wait and see

      1. Minimum Wage Increase
        I think Evanston should raise it’s minimum wage since the rent is already high out there.

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