Chicago Tribune: Report: Taxpayers cover the costs of low wages

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SEIU Local 99/Flickr

From the Chicago Tribune:

by Lolly Bowean

Four days a week, Marcie Barnett rises at 3 a.m. and then travels by bus and train about 90 minutes from her South Shore apartment to her job as a security officer at O'Hare International Airport.

She's on her feet for eight-plus hours patrolling the airport corridors, guarding doors to make sure people don't improperly enter or exit and watching over the baggage claim area.

But with her $12.20 an hour wage, Barnett doesn't earn enough to pay rent on her three-bedroom apartment, cover utilities and buy groceries for her daughter and granddaughter, who live with her. So she relies on a Chicago housing choice voucher to subsidize more than half of the rent.

"I have expenses that are going up and some bills just don't get paid," said Barnett, who has learned not to panic over her state of constant financial crisis. "I've been living like this for so long, I don't even think about it. It's become second nature."

Barnett, 61, is one of thousands of Cook County residents who go to work, put in the hours, but still receive some form of public aid. At a time the country is engaged in a fierce debate over the minimum wage, Barnett's struggle helps to give it a face.

"There is a hard pocketbook cost to keeping workers in poverty in Cook County," said Liz Ryan Murray, the policy director for the National People's Action, a collection of grass-roots groups that support a higher minimum wage. "It affects everyone from people who have businesses, to the workers, to law enforcement, to educators, to everyone who (wants) a healthy economy.

"Poverty isn't free," she added. "It's not just low-paid workers that suffer. It's all of us."

National People's Action released a study recently in an attempt to broaden the conversation on low-wage workers to look at how taxpayers end up paying to help support those earners. The report comes as activists are pushing for the adoption of a Responsible Business Act in Cook County that would force companies with more than 750 employees to either pay a higher salary to their workers or pay a penalty.

Read the full article from the Chicago Tribune