Chicago workers show concern over wages

Chicago workers will see a boost in the minimum wage starting this year. (Lucy Ren/Medill)

By Lucy Ren

The U.S. labor market is showing great momentum for recovery as the unemployment rate dipped to a seven-year low of 5.5 percent in February. Nevertheless, wages remain stagnant, and that is a concern for a sampling of working people in downtown Chicago.

Evelina Juarez, sales manager at the Fannie May candy store in the Loop, declared, “people have been saying that wages will go up for the longest, but I don’t think it will actually happen.”

Niki Desai, who works at the newsstand at Clark and Adams streets, said he heard people talk about the recovery of the labor market, but he has not seen any change yet.

“Employers are not paying as much wages because they have other sources of labor, illegal cheap labors,” Desai expressed. “As I understand, there are 200 to 300 thousand illegal immigrants entering America every year. They don’t want status but they want work. And they are ready to work at very low wages. So if somebody is willing to work at $6 per hour, why choose people that work for $12 an hour?”

Desai insisted that this “troubling situation” should be solved by constitutional changes. “Make these immigrants legal, give them Social Security and ask them to pay taxes,” he stated.

“Minimum wage is way too low now,” declared Wintry Simmons, chef at the fast food restaurant Vault. “Minimum wage should be $20 an hour,” her co-worker Lito Johnston added.

“I don’t think wages are going up soon,” said Dan Esboldt, client consultant at the bankruptcy law firm UpRight Law LLC, “’cause I don’t think Congress will ever let that pass.”

Jacky Doherty, customer service representative at a BMO Harris Bank branch, said, “I’ve been in the bank for 20 years. Our wages go by a bracket, and I haven’t got a raise since I reached that bracket.”

Doherty is not optimistic about getting a boost anytime soon. “I’d like to see a wage increase if I am here for another 10 or 15 years until I retire.”

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City Council approved an ordinance to raise the minimum wage in Chicago to $13 per hour by 2019, increasing the earnings of approximately 410,000 Chicago workers. (Lucy Ren/Medill)

The Chicago City Council has approved an ordinance calling for the minimum hourly wage to rise from $8.25 to $10 this year, and to $13 by 2019.

“I heard people are not going to have a minimum wage increase if they are work for companies outside the city of Chicago,” Doherty stated, “like my daughter, she works in Bedford Park, which is two blocks away from the city. So she’s not going to get a raise at her job, but people down the street are going to get it because they work in the city. I don’t understand that,” she added.

Frank Calabrese, attorney at the law firm Loevy & Loevy, has a more positive view about wage growth. “The economy is doing pretty well, and the Dow and Nasdaq have been soaring high,” he said. “Higher income earners are gaining faster than lower income earners, but I think that will level out pretty soon.”

Photo at Top: Chicago workers will see a boost in the minimum wage starting this year. (Lucy Ren/Medill)