Chicago Considers Raising Its Minimum Wage To The Highest Level In The Nation

Fast food workers protest low wages in Chicago CREDIT: AP
Fast food workers protest low wages in Chicago CREDIT: AP

While the vote will not be legally binding, Chicago’s Board of Elections gave the go ahead for a ballot question on raising the city’s minimum wage to $15 in 103 precincts in 20 wards, or about 5 percent of the city’s precincts.

The vote will be an “advisory one,” Crain’s Chicago Business explains, and the $15 wage would apply to companies with annual gross revenues above $50 million. But organizers and some alderman hope that it could build momentum for a higher wage in the city or the state. Several alderman endorsed a higher wage in December. The group that has been pushing the $15 raise question, the Raise Chicago Coalition, told Crain’s that it hopes the vote “will spark a serious conversation about how the city of Chicago, and all levels of government, must tackle the growing inequality and poverty crisis.”


The activists may be borrowing a page from other fights in targeting a $15 minimum wage. The figure first began to surface in calls from fast food workers, who staged a wave of strikes last year, to raise their wages to that level. The idea caught on in a small town outside of Seattle, home to the SeaTac airport, where voters approved a $15 wage in November, although it is now being fought over in court. Seattle’s mayor is also now pushing for a wage for his city at that level.

The current minimum wage in Chicago, as with the state of Illinois, is $8.25 an hour, a dollar higher than the federal level. The activists say it is still low enough that “workers, and certainly those who support families, simply cannot survive.” Gov. Pat Quinn (D) has pushed to raise the wage to $10 an hour. Yet one of his opponents in the race for the governor’s seat, Bruce Rauner (R), recently stirred up controversy by saying he wanted to go in the opposite direction. In at least three past appearances, he has called for actually decreasing the state’s wage by a dollar so that it matches the federal level, although has now walked back that position and says he supports raising the national wage.

There is some momentum for that kind of raise, as President Obama has endorsed bringing the federal minimum wage up to $10.10 an hour, in line where it would be if it had risen along with inflation, and Democratic lawmakers previously put forward a bill to do just that, although House Republicans unanimously voted it down. The public is also behind raising the wage, with different polls showing strong support.

Even without federal action, though, Chicago is just of many places that is home to an effort to raise the wage. Acivists are also trying to put raises in front of voters in Alaska, Arkansas, Idaho, Massachusetts, New Mexico, South Dakota, and Washington, D.C., and lawmakers in six states, Delaware, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Maryland, Minnesota, and New Hampshire, are considering legislation.