Editorial: To really boost wages, train our future workers

SHARE Editorial: To really boost wages, train our future workers
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Fast food workers and community activists protest last year in Chicago, Illinois, calling for an increase in the minimum wage (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Follow @csteditorialsThe Cook County Board took a necessary step toward improving workers’ lives and the local economy Wednesday when it voted to raise the minimum wage to $13 by 2020.

But, politically speaking, that was the easy job.

Now comes the hard part: Creating a stronger local economy of higher-paying jobs so that fewer full-time workers are stuck in minimum-wage gigs to begin with. The County Board, along with government at all levels and the business community — could do much more to grow and attract such jobs, and to train the skilled work force necessary for those jobs.

EDITORIAL

Follow @csteditorialsAs Greg Baise, president and CEO of the Illinois Manufacturers Association and John Blazey of Boeing write in online opinion piece at chicago.suntimes.com, more than 30,000 manufacturing engineers and production technicians will retire from Illinois’ work force each year until 2028. Those are good jobs we should ensure are filled here. In Illinois, the average manufacturing worker earns $81,000 a year in salary and benefits.

But Edward Gordon, an author on work force issues and a member of the Chicago Renaissance Manufacturing Council, says that while Chicago businesses and educational institutions have made progress in training people for the jobs of tomorrow, they can and must do more.

“The reality remains that we have a growing number of vacant jobs, and we have a growing number of people who have dropped out of the work force because no one will train them [for those vacant jobs],” Gordon says.

Raising the minimum wage in Cook County will boost the local economy because low-wage workers tend to spend their money here, says Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin, the lead sponsor of the proposal to raise the minimum wage. About 200,000 people are expected to benefit, he said.

Moreover, by 2020, the Cook County law will level the playing field between businesses in Chicago and suburban Cook County, provided home rule suburbs in Cook County don’t opt out. Chicago already has raised its minimum wage, which will increase to $13 for non-tipped employees by 2019.

Ideally, the state would raise its minimum wage, which is stuck at $8.25, a buck higher than the federal minimum wage. It’s worth remembering that this federal minimum, $7.25, would be about $11 if it had kept up with inflation since 1968.

Not everyone is cheering the wage hike. Businesses, especially smaller ones, have had to cope with stiff property tax increases in Chicago, sales taxes that have risen in some areas to the highest in the nation, higher tobacco taxes, newly mandated sick pay and a plastic bag ban. Higher minimum wages will be another burden on them.

But minimum-wage workers are no longer mostly high school and college kids looking for a little spending money. Today, they are far more likely to be men and women paying rent, buying groceries and raising children. They deserve better pay now — and a chance at a better job down the road.

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