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Local News


$15 minimum wage worries some in Will County business community

Illinois Democrats recently praised the passing of a minimum wage increase to $15 by 2025.

“An increase in Illinois’ minimum wage is long overdue to keep up with the rising cost of living, and the plan I supported increases wages over a five-year period in a fair and balanced way,” Rep. John Connor, D-Lockport, said in a statement.

The Democrat-controlled General Assembly passed the bill and with Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s signature, it will incrementally raise the wage, now $8.25 an hour, each year starting next year. It would increase to $9.25 an hour Jan. 1 and then $10 an hour July 1. After increasing to $11 an hour Jan. 1, 2021, it would go up by $1 an hour each year until it reaches $15 an hour starting in 2025.

The law also includes a tax credit for businesses with fewer than 50 full-time equivalent employees, starting at 25 percent of the difference between the current minimum wage and an employee’s wage in the final quarter of the previous calendar year. It would decrease by 4 percent each year until it hits 5 percent in the final two years.

“Fair pay for hard work is the American way,” Sen. Pat McGuire, D-Joliet, said in a statement. “A higher minimum wage will boost families and the Illinois economy.”

A recent study by the National Employment Law Project, a left-leaning think tank, argued that even in lower-cost regions of the state, such as Danville, East St. Louis and rural areas, workers need to earn $15 an hour or more to cover basic living costs. A single worker in rural Illinois will soon have to earn $32,178 a year, or $15.47 an hour, to cover housing, food, transportation and other expenses.

But some in the Will County business community argue that while a $15 minimum wage might work in Chicago, it could be devastating to communities elsewhere around the state, including in Will County.

Joliet Chamber of Commerce Vice President Mike Paone argued the General Assembly shouldn’t rush the bill through and instead compromise.

“A $15 rate may work well for Chicago because it is just a completely different economic engine than basically the rest of the state,” Paone said.

He said that increasing wages would mean fewer hours and possibly layoffs for employees, and higher prices for customers.

David Rickerd, the owner of Port Noir, a wine and martini bar in Lockport, said he worries about what such an hourly wage hike would mean for his small business. He has three full-time employees and said he pays fairly compared with other food and beverage service jobs.

Rickerd insisted he’s not against workers getting paid fairly, but he is unsure, even with the tax credit, what the increase will mean for his small business and the local economy.

“There’s a lot of pros and cons, well, mostly cons,” he said. “Because it looks sexy like, ‘Oh I’m making more money,’ but what does that do [for business]?”

Rickerd has seen this before. He’s from California and when that state raised its minimum wage, the cost of living went up as well.

He said that it might not have a devastating effect on his business. Rickerd said Port Noir has grown a loyal fan base. That’s mainly because of its relaxing atmosphere and live music performances that attract acts from all around as well as talented locals. He said since moving to Will County, he has fallen in love with the place and the people.

Rickerd said he hopes he can continue to prosper, but only time will tell what a $15 minimum wage will mean for Port Noir.

“Any smart person would jump ship if the ship is sinking,” he said.

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