Minimum wage question brings hope and doubt

Published 06/23 2014 10:07PM

Updated 06/24 2014 10:23AM

SPRINGFIELD -- Debate about increasing the minimum wage heats up as the proposal reaches the November ballot. When part-time repairman Robert Hills is asked how he gets by on his minimum wage salary, he has only one answer.

"Impossible. Impossible. You have to find something else to do,” Hills said.

Even with food stamps and picking up odd jobs, Hills still has to pick up meals at local food pantries to get by.

"You can't survive like that, not at this day and time. This is 2014,” he said.

This November, voters will be able to make their voices heard on raising the minimum wage from $8.25 an hour to $10. The referendum is sponsored by Illinois Democrats, including House Speaker Michael Madigan.

The non-binding resolution won’t actually change the law if passed, but could give supporters the push they need to enact an increase by 2015. Local business owners say increasing the minimum wage may not be the solution to the problem.

Michael Higgins, owner of Maldaner’s Restaurant in Springfield, said he would have to pass some of the costs to his customers.

"Yes I will be affected as a business, but I'll make those cost adjustments just like everyone I'm buying from makes cost adjustments to me,” Higgins said.

He said he's not opposed to an increase, but said people shouldn't expect it to eliminate poverty.

"That is not going to happen,” Higgins said. “Minimum wage has gone up over the years and people are still in poverty."

The Illinois Chamber of Commerce said a minimum wage increase could kill jobs in the fragile economy. The chamber’s executive vice-president Todd Maisch said employers could adapt to the increase by cutting hours, employees or benefits.

Even some at an area food pantry were afraid of unintended side effects of a mandatory pay raise.

"Things are difficult, but if they do that, they're going to lay me off in order to pay $10 to everybody else,” said one worker.

Voters will have their chance to give their opinion on the complex question in the voting booth on November 4.

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