Monthly Archive: February 2019

How Will a $15 Minimum Wage Affect Decatur?

Just this week, Illinois’ new governor signed a bill that will raise minimum wage to $15 an hour. A series of increases over the next 6 years will nearly double minimum wage in the state of Illinois. How will this affect communities like Decatur where wages are much lower than Chicago and Chicago suburbs?

I’m not an economist so I’m not going to pretend to be one but I think common sense and a little bit of college economics 101 can help paint the picture.

Will businesses hire fewer people due to a higher minimum wage? I’m sure some will try that route but you can only cut off so much meat until your skeleton crew crumbles into a pile of dust. Productivity will suffer, employee retention will fall and so will the business.

It’s my firm belief that if you overwork and underpay your employees you’re going to have an inferior business and a lousy product. That’s not economics. That’s just the way it is. Unhappy workers don’t give their best.

That said, I would expect a decrease in employment, maybe until businesses can adjust. And yes, I would expect higher costs to be passed on to consumers.

But retail and consumer spending has changed a lot over the past decade or so. We consume less and less from local businesses and more and more from online retailers.

With Illinois having a higher minimum wage, Illinoisans are going to have more buying power nationally. It will be interesting to see what the ripple effect will be nationally. For the state, increased sales tax revenue from online sales can be expected which will help a state buried in debt.

Most of my major purchases are made online, mostly because I can’t find those same products here in Decatur because we have so few retailers left. Have you seen the mall lately? There just isn’t much to choose from. Plus, it’s just a heck of a lot more convenient to make purchasing decisions online where I can read reviews, price compare and make the best choice.

So while we might have to pay more at the local grocery store, we’ll have more purchasing power online where a lot of us are shopping.

Also, many household bills likely won’t be impacted significantly by a higher minimum wage because power companies, car manufacturers, etc., already pay their workers more than the minimum wage. Those bills aren’t likely to increase.

Where I do see costs being passed on to the consumer is in food service, retail and healthcare. These are areas where workers have been woefully underpaid forever and I don’t feel sorry for them for having to pay a living wage. They should have been paying it all along, especially in healthcare.

According to a quick Google search, 48.5% of women earn less than $15/hour nationally and 35.2% earn less than $12/hour. [Source] The numbers are even worse for black and hispanic workers.

The increase in Illinois is going to help lift a lot of women and minorities out of poverty.

Should anyone working 40 hours a week be living in poverty? I don’t think so. In fact, the minimum wage was created to ensure that living wages were being paid to workers. A minimum wage wasn’t meant to keep people in poverty. The minimum wage was meant for families to be able to live a decent life.

I keep reading the same arguments against a minimum wage increase and two themes keep repeating. One, people feel that you should have to gain better skills and climb that corporate ladder to be paid a living wage.

While I think employees with more experience and skills should be rewarded with higher incomes, I don’t believe that those just entering the workforce or working in notoriously underpaid positions should be forced into poverty.

After all, somebody has to prepare your food at the restaurant, somebody has to care for you in the nursing home, and somebody has to stock the shelves at the grocery store, etc.

Should those somebodies be forced to accept a life of financial insecurity so you can buy a cheaper Happy Meal or bag of potato chips? Do you think you’re better than them?

And I think that’s what that argument all boils down to. I think a lot of workers making above minimum wage like having people beneath them. It makes them feel better about themselves.

Who cares if all those millions of people working low wages can’t afford homes, health care, transportation, etc., as long as my fast food is still cheap and I have people to step on.

And another argument that drives me crazy is that people are stereotyping low wage workers as flipping hamburgers at McDonald’s. There are millions of low wage workers and most aren’t working in fast food.

And what’s a living wage? According to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in Macon County the living wage for one person supporting themselves is $10.96/hour. For a household consisting of one adult and one child that increases to $24.41/hour. [Source] That’s why both parents have to work because not many people in Decatur are making $24/hour or above. And if you have two kids, you’ll need to make more than $30/hour, if you’re the sole breadwinner, or collectively if you’re combining two salaries.

With all of that being said, I do understand $15/hour will be tough on small businesses at first. But you know what’s tougher? Trying to live on less than $15/hour.

There are many rewards to reap when you pay better wages to your employees.

Nothing breaks up a marriage faster than not having enough money. Not much hurts kids more than broken families and impoverished neighborhoods.

Take a look around Decatur and you’ll see the effects of a high percentage of residents living at or below the poverty level. It’s the number one issue dragging the city down.

When unions were attacked, manufacturing jobs left, and wages were knocked down so was Decatur. I know because I lived through it and saw it happen. I remember the before and the after.

People making $15/hour or more might just be able to buy a home or make repairs on the one they’re living in. They might stick around in the community and make a positive difference.

Pay garbage wages and you’ll have a trashy looking city. After all, you get what you pay for and that’s what it’s all about.

Changes

I didn’t know it would be this difficult to find a time to write but boy trying to find time to do anything has become a nearly impossible mission but I do have some time this morning!

It still feels strange to come back to this blog. College took me in a different direction and opened my eyes to many more things than just Decatur but it never left my mind. There’s a few pages on Facebook that I follow where people reminiscence about the Decatur they knew when they were growing up and they share their laments over how little the Decatur of today lives up to those fond memories.

While I do have wonderful memories of Decatur, most of them center around people and not necessarily places. My old neighborhood doesn’t look that different from what it did in the 70s or 80s. Well, I do miss Holiday Swim Club and for it to be replaced by an insurance company and a chiropractor…ugh!

And change, I’ve never adjusted to change well, even if it’s a good change. Basically, I have an emotional meltdown. Accepting my husband’s marriage proposal sent me to the ER with a massive panic attack but we’re still married 23 years later!

This month I will have been at my current job for six months and honestly it feels more like 40 years because my mind and body has felt every minute as intense observation and life contemplation. I’m finally kinda starting to settle in and sorta kinda beginning to feel like I kinda sorta belong there but I’m still analyzing the situation- minute by minute.

Really, I had no mental preparation for the job. I went to college to be a conservationist but I ended up working in a hospital basement processing surgical instruments. Now who wrote this story?

I never pictured myself in such a setting and it’s laughable now when I think about what I thought the job would be and want it turned out to be. I had absolutely no idea what I was getting myself into.

It’s been non-stop learning from day one. On my first day, my boss said it takes two years to become truly competent at the job and I didn’t believe her. “Heck, I’ll have this down in two weeks.” I thought. Six months later and I’m still learning new instruments, new methods, new protocols, and I have a mountain yet to climb and explore to even begin feeling like I know what I’m doing.

It’s one of the few jobs in a hospital where you really just have to learn everything you need to know on the job. Mistakes are going to be made along the way. No schooling can prepare you for sterile processing. Everything has to be memorized and experienced to know what you’re doing.

Well, I think nursing is probably the same way. As one put it, 99% of what you learn in nursing school is BS. Everything you really need to know you learn on the job.

I think a lot of jobs are that way.

But change…I certainly didn’t picture myself in an OR as co-workers scrambled to find instruments to stop the bleeding of a gunshot victim. We were literally running for his life through the halls with spongesticks in hand.

I’ve seen patients opened up under the bright lights and seen their insides kind of like how I saw that frog I dissected in junior high.

I’m surprised it didn’t freak me out. The frog did but not seeing the bright red innards of a human being under spotlights.

It just goes to show that the thought of marriage and dissected frogs is far more frightening than seeing a human being sliced in half. Is that the lesson of this story? I don’t know. Maybe.

When I flew out to Oregon for my graduation ceremony I certainly didn’t picture myself cleaning bloody instruments – some of which look like medieval devices of torture. I was supposed to be saving the planet but that world got really small when I entered that sterile processing department.

In such small confines interacting with and learning how to get along with co-workers has been the most difficult part of the job. That’s the part you can never prepare for.

The backgrounds of the people are so varied and everyone certainly has their own personality. The co-worker that trained me for the first three months asked me what I thought of the job after training for several weeks and I told her it’s been entertaining. I always go home with a story to tell.

She laughed a little and said that wasn’t the reply she was expecting but I answered honestly.

Being self-employed for most of my adult life certainly didn’t prepare me for co-workers but I’ve come to appreciate the motley crew we are – most of the time. Well, one thing that did prepare me was my husband’s Greek family. They squabble, complain a lot, and vow to never speak again (for the 100th time) but the next day they’re back at it doing what they do.

I guess that might sound like I’m making fun of Greek people but I can make fun of my Puritan English heritage too where we just internalize everything and keep smiling.

You either have small daily eruptions like the Greeks or you become Mt. Saint Helens and send the once varied and vibrant life around you back to the earliest seral stage of lichens when you finally blow off what has been building up inside. That’s being English.

Uhm, I think I got off track here a little bit.

But anyway back to change and living a life that you didn’t envision for yourself. Cities aren’t any different. They change and become something nobody could envision either.

I love history and talking about the old times but sometimes that does get old. You got to keep moving and evolving. Yes, Decatur isn’t what it used to be but is anything?

Did anybody’s life turn out exactly as planned? Are you the person you thought you’d be when you were young? In some ways I’m very much the same but in other ways I’m nothing like I thought I’d be.

If there’s anything I learned in college is that nothing about Earth or anything living on it stays the same. Heck, even continents move. We have to move with them.

So yeah, it’s fun to see old photos of Decatur but instead of wishing things were like then or how we would plan them to be, shouldn’t we just make today better? After all, Decaturites that lived here a hundred years ago obviously weren’t sitting around wishing things were like before. They were building a city and neighborhoods and lives.

Maybe we should all get a life too and be okay with life taking us in directions we didn’t anticipate. We might create something good or we could send Decatur back to the earliest pioneer species of lichens clinging to rocks.

Either way. We’ve got to roll with the changes. That’s life.