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This article was originally posted on the Huffington Post

By Elizabeth Parisian

If you’ve been on Facebook this week, you’ve probably seen the Chris Rock quote making the rounds:

“I used to work at McDonald’s making minimum wage. You know what that means when someone pays you minimum wage? You know what your boss is trying to say? It’s like, ‘Hey, [if] I could pay you less, I would, but it’s against the law.’”

Now it seems that some minimum wage employers aretrying to pay their workers less – and to even make it legal to do so. It seems unfathomable that anyone would consider the minimum wage — which, for a full-time worker, provides a yearly salary that is thousands of dollars below the poverty line for a family of three or four — to be too high. But in Arizona, Republican legislators are pushing a bill that would allow employers to pay teenagers working part-time a full three dollars per hour less than the state minimum wage, which works out to a mere $4.65 per hour.

And the Florida legislature is considering lowering the state minimum wage for tipped employees by more than half, from the current $4.65 per hour to the federal minimum of $2.13. OSI Partners, the company that owns Outback Steakhouse, supports the legislation. Given the current political discourse on how best to create good jobs and help struggling families, OSI’s involvement is especially noteworthy since the firm is owned by Bain Capital, the company that Mitt Romney co-founded and in which the Republican presidential nominee still has tens of millions invested.

The federal minimum wage, currently $7.25 per hour, has been raised only three times over the last 30 years. If the minimum wage had kept up with inflation over the last few decades, it would now be $10.55 per hour – arguably still not enough to support a family, but a marked improvement from where it is presently.

Luckily, despite the fact that some Republicans think the minimum wage is still too high for some workers, there are many, many folks who support a substantial wage increase. One of these folks is Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa, who in March introduced legislation to raise the minimum wage to $9.80 over two and a half years and peg it to inflation – a move supported by over two-thirds of voters. Hundreds of economists, including several Nobel Prize winners, have spoken out in favor of raising the minimum wage, along with large employers like Costco and business organizations like the U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce that recognize that higher wages are good for workers, employers, and the economy.

Unfortunately, this overwhelming support for raising the minimum wage does not extend to most of corporate America, which has a tendency to prize the short-term bottom line above all other considerations, including the ability of its workers to make ends meet. The anti-minimum wage gang will “twist itself into knots rationalizing a corporate-backed agenda,” John Stoehr observes in The American Prospect. And there is no question that those opposed to raising the minimum wage will prey upon our fears of joblessness and the bad economy to try to convince us that the minimum wage needs to stay where it is.

Corporate lobbyists are busy spreading distortions and outright lies in their attempt to hold back minimum wage increases supported by the vast majority of working people. Here are some of the biggest falsehoods that are going around, along with facts you can use to discredit them (with many thanks toraisetheminimumwage.org for providing much of this information):

Myth No. 1: Raising the minimum wage will kill jobs

Facts: Rigorous research carried out over the last two decades has demonstrated that raising the minimum wage does not result in job loss — in fact, it’s been shown to result in increased employment. For example, an analysis of Illinois, which raised its minimum wage in 2004 and 2006, showed that the state experienced more job growth than surrounding states where wages remained at the federal minimum.

And contrary to the claims of corporate America, large companies can easily afford to pay workers an increased wage without suffering losses. According to the National Employment Law Project (NELP), corporate profits now represent the largest share of GDP — and wages and salaries represent the lowest share — in over half a century.

Myth No. 2: Raising the minimum wage will hurt small businesses

Facts: According to NELP, two-thirds of all minimum wage employees work in companies with at least 100 workers, and half of all minimum wage workers work in companies with over 500 workers. For those small businesses that do employ minimum wage workers, there is good news: a 2006 study found that small businesses experienced higher rates of growth in states where the minimum wage was higher than the federal minimum.

Margot Dorfman, CEO of the U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce, explains it this way:

“The business owners with whom I talk every day believe that, far from hurting their businesses, raising the minimum wage in fact helps small businesses, women workers and the broader economy. Raising the minimum wage reinforces their business strategies, rather than undermining them.”

Myth No. 3: We can’t afford to raise the minimum wage during a recession

Facts: Raising the minimum wage would provide the stimulus we need to speed economic recovery. A 2011 study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago found that every dollar increase for a minimum wage worker results in $2,800 in new consumer spending by his or her household over the following year. Put simply, low wage workers have a desperate need for any increased income and spend it quickly, often on the local level, which provides a huge boost to the economy–as even conservative economists have documented.

There is no doubt that the current federal minimum wage is too low, and that raising it would provide a much needed boost not only to low-wage workers but also to the sluggish economy. Now that election season is in full swing, it’s important to find out where candidates seeking our votes stand on the issue of raising the minimum wage — and to let them know where we, along with the majority of Americans, stand on the issue as well.

- Elizabeth is the Policy Analyst for Stand Up! Chicago

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By Shelly Ruzicka

On the sunny morning of May 17th, over 100 community supporters including Chicago and suburban residents, workers, clergy, and lay leaders traveled to Springfield to educate their legislators on the need to increase the state minimum wage.  The group consisted of individuals from member organizations of Raise Illinois, a coalition made up of non-profit organizations, labor groups, businesses, and religious leaders who understand that increasing the minimum wage will directly benefit working families struggling to pay the bills as well as the Illinois economy.

The day consisted of a rally outside the Capitol building and visits to legislators’ offices.  While not everyone was able to speak to his or her own Representative or Senator, those who did found it productive and empowering.  “I feel I’m coming back from this trip a different person. I learned so much,” said Rev. Myiam Renaud. Knowing each legislator has thousands of constituents, she found it surprising so many coalition members were able to see their representatives without appointments, and valued having the opportunity to share critical information with them.  “When we come with the facts, we have a real opportunity to impact our legislators.  Even one person can make a difference.”

At a time when democracy seems to have been hijacked by corporate and wealthy individual donor spending, many found it refreshing that at the state level, so many legislators were not only open to meet with constituents, but to hold productive discussions that may help influence their votes.  This is why the coalition has worked so hard to mobilize all stakeholders.  It’s a lot harder for legislators to turn a blind eye to the benefits of a minimum wage increase when a diverse community of low-wage workers, small business owners, and religious leaders all have the same rallying cry.

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According to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), minimum wage increases can provide an economic boost to our state’s economy by putting more money into the pockets of low-wage earners who will return their earnings directly to the economy by spending in their communities—at grocery stores, gas stations, etc.  The EPI released a study called “The Benefits of Raising Illinois’ Minimum Wage.”  In it, the researchers state, “Economists generally recognize that low-wage workers are more likely than any other income group to spend any extra earnings immediately on basic needs or services that they could not previously afford.  Increasing Illinois’ minimum wage to $10.65 across four years would give an additional $3.8 billion to directly affected families who will, in turn, spend those extra earnings.”  This  $3.8 billion does not include additional spending from those who make just above the minimum wage who would also likely see a wage increase to maintain wage ladders (the “spillover” effect).

In a struggling economy, and in a state with seemingly never-ending budget problems, who can argue with a measure that would boost the Illinois economy and not cost the state a dime?  Especially after the state found a way to give tax breaks to giant corporations like CME Group and Sears.

The most common argument against a minimum wage increase is that it will result in job loss because employers will decrease hours or cut jobs. However, recent research demonstrates that minimum wage increases actually help create jobs. In his testimony to state legislatures, University of Illinois at Chicago research assistant professor Marc Doussard cites multiple sources that conclude that minimum wage increases do not lead to job losses, including a 2010 study in the prestigious Review of Economics and Statistics, and a 2006 study by the Fiscal Policy Institute. The latter provides findings that small businesses in states like Illinois with higher minimum wages than other states have not been hurt. In fact, the study shows that both the number of small businesses and the number of jobs at small businesses actually grew faster in states with higher minimum wages.

The proposed increase (via Senate Bill 1565) would gradually move the Illinois minimum wage from the current $8.25 per hour to $10.65 per hour in 2014.  The brilliance of the proposal is to tie the minimum wage thereafter to inflation, avoiding the need to pass laws for wage increases every few years.  Ten other states currently have similar policies indexing the minimum wage to inflation.

“It may never be equal, but it can be fair,” said Sr. Marlene Schemmel, Arise Chicago Advisory Board member, on the trip back to Chicago.  This was her second trip to Springfield with the Raise Illinois coalition, and likely will not be her last. Like hundreds of faith leaders across the state, she recognizes the need to take action to benefit her state and its lowest paid workers.

If you want to join Rev. Renaud, Sr. Marlene and the hundreds of other clergy and community supporters, but can’t make it to Springfield, sign the voter or faith leader petitions on the Raise Illinois coalition website.  And call your legislators.  While one phone call may not determine how a legislator will vote, not calling guarantees your voice will not be heard.

-Shelly is the Director of Operations at Arise Chicago

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By Aziza Nassar

January 31st was a day that I will never forget.

I joined 67 of my fellow brothers and sisters in faith in Springfield, as part of the Raise Illinois coalition, to present petitions to our state legislators to pass Senate Bill 1565, a bill to raise the minimum wage in Illinois.  The petitions we presented were in the form of a scroll that included signatures of over 200 religious leaders from all over Illinois.

I was overwhelmed to be a part of such an action because it is so personal to me. Being the eldest daughter to a widowed mother of five, I felt like it was my responsibility not just for myself, but also for my family. After my father passed away in 2002, money was tight; with no family to turn to, my mother had no choice but to work a minimum wage job.  Remembering this motivated me as I struggled with my wheelchair on the Amtrak train we took from Chicago to the Capitol.

“You are so strong,” said Shon Robertson of Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, as we were boarding out of the train. I knew I had to be. A raise of one or two dollars per hour may not seem much for many, but it would make a huge difference for my family. As a Muslim, my faith taught me that I should work hard and try to perfect all that I do because there will be baraka, blessings, in my earnings. Similarly, many faith traditions including Islam stress the importance of just compensation.

Once we arrived in Springfield,  Raise Illinois held a press conference in the capitol rotunda. Revs. Norval Brown, Jackie Lynn, Bonnie Osei-Frimpong and economist Ron Baiman were among those who spoke. Rev. C.J. Hawking, Executive Director of Arise Chicago, brought a great spirit to the conference when she presented a scroll of faith leader signatures stretching 5 feet long to Senator Kimberly Lightford, the lead sponsor of the bill, and led the crowd in an uplifting chant that brought a powerful energy.

The excitement encouraged us as we proceeded to our legislators offices.  Although I was not able to meet legislators from my district, I met with State Rep Al Riley.  At first he seemed hesitant to speak to us before the press conference, explaining that this may not be the best time for a raise in minimum wage, but he supported Raise Illinois in the end by saying that we should continue building relationships because strength is in numbers.

Although it was my first time in Springfield, I felt at home. I was comfortable knowing I had made a difference. You can too. Make your voice heard by taking action. If you live in Illinois and/or are a Faith Leader, please sign one of the petitions and join the fight for fair minimum wage in Illinois!

-Aziza is the Zakat Intern at Arise Chicago

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