Stakes Are High for Workers, Businesses as Illinois Considers Minimum Wage Hike

Dairy Queen location with an older aesthetic.

Kara Brugman/Flickr

From the Chicago Tribune:

By Alexia Elejalde-Ruiz

Business was slow one brisk spring morning at the Dairy Queen in suburban Northbrook. Bernadette Simpson, manning the Blizzard machine, churned an ice cream treat and then made a show of holding it upside-down to demonstrate its gravity-defying thickness, as company policy requires her to do.

Simpson, 48, started working at Dairy Queen two years ago for $8.50 an hour, a quarter more than the state's minimum wage, and now earns $10.25.

She enjoys the job — "How can you not be happy working with ice cream?" she said — but scrapes by.

"I clip coupons, we look for sales, we keep things very low-key and we try to save as much as we can," said Simpson, a single mom of two who lives with her teenage daughter in Buffalo Grove.

"All change goes into a jar that's not touched, and come the end of year we take it to the bank and trade it for cash for the holidays."

Scraping by was not part of Simpson's original plan. She went to nursing school and worked in health care before she left to raise her kids and care for her ailing grandmother. But when she tried to go back to work 15 years later, after her grandmother died, employers wouldn't hire her because she'd been out of the workforce so long, she said.

So Simpson joined the swelling ranks of low-wage service workers, who increasingly look more like her: older, raising families, without many other options.

As Illinois considers raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, up from the current $8.25, advocates say the changing face of the low-wage worker is a reason why the minimum wage must be a living wage.

Read full article from the Chicago Tribune.