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Illinois Workers Celebrate as 'Life-Changing' $15 Per Hour Minimum Wage Signed Into Law

Home to one of the nation's largest cities, it is the first Midwestern state to require that rate

Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker

Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker signed a law on Tuesday that will raise the minimum wage in Illinois to $15 per hour by 2025. (Photo: @GovPritzker/Twitter)

Illinois workers and local Fight for $15 organizers celebrated a win on Tuesday as newly elected Democratic Gov. JB Pritzker signed a law that will gradually raise the state's hourly minimum wage from $8.25 to $15 by 2025.

"Fifteen dollars an hour will be life-changing for me. I can barely afford the basic needs for my two sons on my minimum-wage salary. Simple things like whether to buy school supplies for my older boy or formula and diapers for my little one become agonizing choices," said Fight for $15 member Ieshia Townsend, who works a McDonald's in Chicago.

Reflecting on the past six years of grassroots organizing to raise wages across the state, Townsend shared that "as a single mom and a Black woman on the south side of Chicago, I felt invisible before I joined the Fight for $15 and a union. But by coming togethe and speaking out, our voices have been heard." While welcoming the victory on Tuesday, she vowed to continue the fight for a union.

Pointing out that the new law comes just two years after former Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner—who was voted out in November—vetoed similar legislation, Patriotic Millionaires and Illinois residents Michael and Joan Pine said in a statement, "Illinois' working families will finally get the boost they deserve."

"So long as the federal minimum wage does not keep up with increases in the costs of goods and rising inflation, it will be necessary for states to step in," the Pines charged. "By Gov. Pritzker making a living wage one of his first priorities, he has shown a commitment to the working class and the businesses that service them."

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"This is a monumental day for our state, a day that redefines what it means to live and work in Illinois," Pritzker said at a signing ceremony in Springfield Tuesday morning, surrounded by workers, labor leaders, and legislators. Thanking them for their years-long dedication to enacting the law, he added, "Make no mistake, this did not happen overnight nor did it happen without the powerful voices of those who fight for workers' rights."

Despite his status as a billionaire businessman, the governor promised during his campaign to promote economic inclusion, raise wages, and protect collective bargaining rights. "Today, we boldly declare that Illinois is a state that welcomes working families, setting a high standard for workers' rights, economic opportunity, and economic justice," he concluded.

While Pritzker's signature on Tuesday made Illinois the first Midwestern state, and fifth in the nation, to mandate a $15 hourly wage, the measure—which didn't receive any support from Republican lawmakers—does have some limitations in addition to its gradual implementation. As the Chicago Tribune outlined:

An estimated 1.4 million Illinois residents will see their pay go up Jan. 1 as a result of the law, which increases the statewide minimum wage to $9.25 per hour from $8.25. The minimum wage will increase again to $10 per hour on July 1, 2020, and will then go up $1 per hour each year on Jan. 1 until hitting $15 per hour in 2025...

In an attempt to ease the burden on employers, the law creates a tax credit to help businesses with 50 or fewer employees offset some of the cost of wage increases. Employers will be able to claim a tax credit for 25 percent of the cost in 2020, and the credit will scale back annually, then eventually phase out.

The law also preserves the way restaurants and other employers with tipped workers count gratuities toward employees' wages, and it sets a lower minimum wage for workers younger than 18 who work fewer than 650 hours in a year. The minimum wage for younger employees—currently $7.75 per hour—would increase to $8 on Jan. 1 and peak at $13 per hour in 2025.

Illinois' new law comes on the heels of an analysis from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) that concluded the Raise the Wage Act of 2019 would improve the lives of an estimated 40 million Americans nationwide, particularly women, people of color, and single parents. Sponsored by Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)—who announced Tuesday that he is running for president—the measure would raise the federal hourly minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 by 2024.

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