Economic Security Across the Border: Illinois Chooses a Better Path

State legislators from Wisconsin and Indiana who have recently sought out-of-state refuge to block votes on major anti-labor bills have all made their way to one neighboring state: Illinois. There is more to this choice than simple geographic proximity: while Illinois Governor Pat Quinn has expressed no interest in extraditing the lawmakers, the state’s pro-labor political climate -- including the recent advancement of policies that will raise wages and job security for workers and improve the state’s fiscal health -- has made it a welcoming destination for lawmakers fighting conservative efforts to slash and burn their own state economies. Illinois families stand to benefit from greater economic security at a time when they would be in danger of losing their rights and financial footing in neighboring states.

As we have reported previously, Illinois has enacted both a strong wage theft law and a more progressive income tax structure in the last year. Now, in 2011, the state is considering legislation to restore the minimum wage to its value in 1968, when the middle class was strong and the nation enjoyed an era of shared prosperity and opportunity. These measures -- all central components of Progressive States Network’s Blueprint for Economic Security -- promise to put money in the pockets of working families, improve job security, and maintain vital public services:

  • Illinois’ wage theft law will deter employers from stealing workers’ wages, and ensure that wage theft victims are able to get their wages back more quickly. Low-wage workers in Chicago lose an average of 15% of their annual income to wage theft, amounting to $2,595 per week – totaling $380 million per year in taxable income.
  • Like Wisconsin Gov. Walker, Illinois Gov. Quinn also called attention to his state’s serious fiscal problems early this session. However, unlike his neighbor, Gov. Quinn has taken a balanced approach, including raising revenue through Illinois’ first increase in personal and corporate income tax rates in twenty-two years. That measure alone will supply $6.5 billion to fill a $15 billion revenue shortfall – a much larger budget gap than Wisconsin faces – and without taking away essential rights like collective bargaining that are vital to sustaining the middle class and in fact do nothing to save the state money.
  • By raising the minimum wage to $10.50 per hour over the next three years, Illinois would put desperately needed money in millions of workers’ pockets, boosting consumer spending and further increasing revenue for state and local governments. Governor Walker would likely deride such a measure as an incentive for Illinois jobs to move across the border to his state, but he would be wrong: recent studies show conclusively that states that raise their minimum wage experience no job-loss impacts; in fact, they tend to see decreases in employee turnover rates, since it becomes easier for businesses to recruit and retain qualified workers.

While conservative lawmakers and governors in control in Wisconsin, Indiana, and states across the nation attempt to use short-term revenue crises caused by the Great Recession as an excuse to ram through measures to permanently strip workers of their rights, progressives are increasingly pointing towards a different path. With their recent actions, both Illinois lawmakers and their temporary guests from across the border have led the way in advancing just such a responsible, collaborative approach -- one that stands up for the middle class, truly promotes job creation, and ensures the prosperity and health of state economies.

Full Resources from this Article

Economic Security Across the Border: Illinois Chooses a Better Path

University of Chicago, Center for Urban Economic Development - Unregulated Work in Chicago:  The Breakdown of Workplace Protections in the Low-Wage Labor Market
National Employment Law Project - Independent Contractor Costs to States
Center on Budget and Policy Priorities - State Tax Changes in Response to the Recession
Let Justice Roll Living Wage Campaign - Raising the Minimum Wage in Hard Times.
Arindrajit Dube, T. William Lester, and Michael Reich - Minimum Wage Effects Across State Borders: Estimates Using Contiguous Counties

This article is part of PSN's email newsletter, The Stateside Dispatch.
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