For Immediate Release

Organization Profile: 

Jacob Swenson-Lengyel,, 312-316-3973

Jessica Juarez Scruggs,, 202-256-8778

Kristi Sanford,, 773-456-4024

Groundbreaking Ordinance to Combat High Cost of Poverty Wages Introduced in Cook County, Illinois

CHICAGO - Today in Cook County, Illinois, grassroots activists and County Commissioner Robert Steele unveiled the Responsible Business Act, a law that aims to put a stop to the irresponsible and unfair corporate behavior at the root of the low-wage jobs crisis. The act would require big corporations that refuse to pay their workers the Cook County Living Wage to pay a fee reimbursing the the County for  providing essential services - like child care, housing and healthcare - that workers need, but cannot afford when corporations choose to inflate profit by paying poverty wages. Cook County voters support the Responsible Business Act by a two-to-one margin.

The high cost of low-wages became a focal point of national discussion in April, when the UC Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education released a study showing that corporations paying poverty wages cost U.S. taxpayers $152.8 billion each year in public support for working families. The same corporations lavish extravagant compensation packages on their CEOs and post record-breaking profits. Grassroots community advocates say this bad corporate behavior means taxpayers are ultimately subsidizing excessive corporate profits.

“Big corporations like Walmart think they can get away with cheating their workers to stuff their own pockets, all while leaving you and me to pick up the tab. We’re saying enough is enough. The Responsible Business Act charges big corporations a fee if they refuse to pay a living wage. Corporations have a responsibility to pay people enough to make ends meet.  Our social safety net should be there when families need it, not line the pockets of CEOs.” said Liz Ryan Murray, Policy and Communications Director at National People’s Action.

The Responsible Business Act, sponsored by Commissioner Robert Steele and supported byIIRON andNational People’s Action, requires corporations with more than 750 employees in Cook County to pay a small fee to the county for each employee paid less than the Cook County Living Wage of $14.57 per hour. The act would reward employers who pay a living wage and compel low-wage employers to pay for the cost of the damage they’re doing. When implemented, the fee will raise as much as $500 million over the next four years.

As the Cook County Board considers the legislation, local community advocates say it’s time for lawmakers and business leaders to start thinking differently about how to best stimulate economic growth.

“Poverty wages are bad for taxpayers and bad for working families. When corporations fail to meet their responsibilities to workers, it has a ripple effect on the entire economy,” said David Hatch, Executive Director of IIRON. “Coupled with government austerity, they are wreaking disaster on families in Cook County and across the country. But if we start fully funding government services and demanding corporations pay their fair share in both wages and taxes, we can stimulate our local economy. When families have more money in their pockets, they spend more at local businesses, and Cook County does better.”


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