The state minimum wage will continue to increase an additional dollar per hour each year. Illustration by: Ellie Mejia.

On a Gradual Path to a $15 Minimum Wage

Check your pay stubs to ensure that time worked in January is paid right

Over the summer, Chicago’s minimum wage increased to $13.50 per hour for small employers and $14 per hour for larger workplaces. Some municipalities in Cook County are close behind at $13. But for many Chicagoans who work outside the city and county limits—not uncommon for the region’s lowest-paid workers—the Illinois minimum wage is set to increase by one dollar to $11 per hour this Friday, January 1st.

While the initial wage increase seems unremarkable, Illinois residents are seeing a domino effect play out. The state minimum wage will continue to increase an additional $1 per hour each year on January 1 until it reaches $15 per hour in 2025, according to legislation Governor J.B. Pritzker signed into law in 2019 after former governor Bruce Rauner repeatedly vetoed the effort. In Chicago, the minimum wage will increase to $15 per hour on July 1, 2021, though small employers will have until 2023 to reach $15.

At least ten percent of workers “reverse commute” from Chicago to more suburban and rural municipalities, according to a 2016 study by the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning. Low earners often drive or carpool to get to industrial, warehouse, and retail job centers in more diffuse locations, the study found.

At the state level, wage increases already went into effect in 2020, to $9.25 per hour in January, followed by a raise to $10 per hour on July 1. “Even before the pandemic, many working families were struggling,” said state senator Kimberly A. Lightford (D-Maywood), chief sponsor of the law. “This increase won’t solve all of their problems, but it will surely help.”

Before the hikes in 2020, the last time Illinois increased its minimum wage was in 2010, when it was raised to $8.25—meaning it hasn’t kept up with the rising cost of living and inflation.

The SEIU-backed “Fight for 15” campaign and supporting labor organizations have popularized the concept of a $15 minimum wage by striking and calling out McDonald’s, Wal-Mart, and other corporate giants for their oppressively low wages since 2012 and filling buses to Springfield to pressure legislators. They’re now taking their demands to Washington, D.C and the Biden administration.

In 2021, workers in Chicago will also be able to sue employers who violate the city’s Fair Workweek ordinance, which requires certain bosses to give hourly employees advance notice of their schedules and compensate them for last-minute changes. In years past, unpredictable schedules and inconsistent paychecks made it hard for workers to plan for child care, hold down a second job, or pay the bills on time.

So check your pay stubs to ensure that time worked in 2021 is legal and fair.

Employees can file a complaint in more than one language with the Illinois Department of Labor at (312) 793-2800 or the Chicago Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection at (312) 744-6060.

This story is a part of the Solving for Chicago collaborative effort by newsrooms to cover the workers deemed “essential” during COVID-19 and how the pandemic is reshaping work and employment. It is a project of the Local Media Foundation with support from the Google News Initiative and the Solutions Journalism Network.

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Jacqueline Serrato is editor-in-chief of the Weekly. She last wrote about La Villita and Pilsen for Best of the South Side 2020.

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