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Local Democrats wary of minimum wage hike

On Quinn’s proposal: Jacobs says not now; Smiddy has no position yet

Mike Jacobs (left) and Mike Smiddy.
Mike Jacobs (left) and Mike Smiddy.

Gov. Pat Quinn wants to increase the minimum wage by $1.75 an hour, to $10, but two area Democratic state lawmakers are not ready to go along just yet. 

State Rep. Mike Smiddy, D-Hillsdale, was busy Monday and had a campaign aide respond when a reporter called about the issue.

The aide, Ben Head, said Smiddy didn’t have a position on the minimum wage increase yet and needs to do “a lot of additional research.”

Smiddy’s fellow Democrat, Sen. Mike Jacobs of East Moline, said that on the whole, he favors the minimum wage going up, not down. 

“We should always be striving to make things better for people,” said Jacobs, whose district includes Whiteside County. “As far as increasing it now, we should be slow to that. We should allow the economy to recover.

“We have to be realistic. You can’t make the minimum wage so high that employers can’t afford to pay it.”

Rep. Tom Demmer, R-Dixon, said he supports maintaining the current minimum. 

“We have one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation,” Demmer said in a text message. “The minimum wage only matters if you can first find a job. We shouldn’t make it harder for businesses to hire.”

But he said the state should look at the minimum wage periodically and compare it to the level of inflation and other states’ minimum wages “to ensure we remain fair and competitive.”

State Sen. Tim Bivins, R-Dixon, couldn’t be reached for comment.

Both Head, Smiddy’s spokesman, and Jacobs noted that neighboring Iowa has a lower minimum wage – $7.25, the national rate – than does Illinois’ $8.25.

“A lot of cities and communities are being aggressive in poaching Illinois business,” Jacobs said. “I’m cognizant that I live right on the border. There is a perception on the border that Illinois is going the wrong way and Iowa is going the right way. We have to keep our eyes open to our local competitors.”

Christopher Marmé, an economics professor at Augustana College in Rock Island, said simple supply and demand would dictate that employers would go where they can pay a lesser wage – but it’s not that simple.

“It’s a lot more complicated than that,” he said. “Businesses want cheap labor, but they also want customers who have a lot of money in their pockets.”

Many companies, he said, strive to pay what is known as the “efficiency wage.”

“Some businesses pay a premium,” Marmé said, “so they can save on costs in the long term by reducing turnover and increasing worker morale.”

The state Legislature begins its 2014 session later this month.

Around the Midwest

The minimum wage around the Midwest:

Illinois: $8.25

Ohio: $7.85

Michigan: $7.40

Missouri: $7.35

Minnesota: $7.25

Indiana: $7.25

Iowa: $7.25

Wisconsin: $7.25

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