Thursday, July 1, 2010

Higher minimum wage doesn’t overcome Chicago’s economic and social advantages

I wonder what Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Brady thinks of Wal-Mart these days.

Brady is the candidate who threatened to make a mess of his campaign by actually saying some people in Illinois should have to endure a pay cut because their minimum-wage jobs pay too much money.

IT IS TRUE that Illinois has one of the highest minimum wages of any state in the nation – one that will go up again as of Thursday to $8.25 per hour (one dollar higher than what federal law requires).

Brady last week tried to appeal to those people among the Republican base who view our society from the perspective of the business owner – many of whom would have a larger profit margin if they could reduce their payroll somewhat.

But his comments that it is wrong for Illinois to think it can succeed economically by having such a higher minimum wage than the federal government literally made him appear to be callous – wanting to cut the pay of people who aren’t exactly making big bucks to begin with, and likely need every penny they’re currently taking home in order to survive.

That is what caused Brady earlier this week to backtrack somewhat.

HE SAYS IT still is wrong for Illinois to have a higher minimum wage, but he promises that if he were elected governor that there would be no further increases in the state’s minimum wage rate until the federal rate were to surpass it.

That likely will be a long ways off in the future, so what we’re learning is that people who have no options in life but to work jobs in Illinois that pay $8.25 per hour will NOT be getting a pay raise any time soon.

Unless …

They happen to live in Chicago and get a crummy paying job working for one of the Wal-Mart stores that are likely to start cropping up within the city limits.

THERE ALREADY IS a Wal-Mart in the Austin neighborhood on the West Side, and the City Council on Wednesday approved a measure that will allow Wal-Mart to build a second store – this one in the Pullman neighborhood on the city’s Far South Side.

This new Wal-Mart (along with the other proposed stores that could someday see about 20 such stores being built within Chicago) would be one of those “Super Stores” that would include a significant supermarket section along with the other goods they sell.

In fact, some have said that Wal-Mart may adapt its urban stores by focusing its attention on groceries. It could very well be that Wal-Mart sees it can make money by taking advantage of the concept of the “food desert” – the slang term for neighborhoods that just don’t have a decent modern supermarket within easy reach.

It seems that some people who live in the African-American oriented neighborhoods of that part of Chicago (Pullman, Roseland, Altgeld Gardens) aren’t that comfortable venturing into the supermarkets in surrounding neighborhoods or suburbs, and for some on the Far South Side, grocery shopping entails a lengthy trip to the Wal-Mart store that now exists in suburban Country Club Hills – a town that has developed a sizable black population in recent years.

I CAN SEE why, for someone who lives around 99th and State streets, a trip out to 167th Street and Pulaski Road is a pain in the butt.

Now how is any of this relevant to Brady or his thoughts on the minimum wage?

It seems that city officials got Wal-Mart to agree to paying a rate above Illinois’ minimum wage in order to get the city to expedite the permits necessary to allow them to build in Pullman.

City-based Wal-Mart workers will get an $8.75 per hour pay rate, along with a raise after one year on the job that will push them over $9 per hour.

WAL-MART ISN’T COMING to Chicago for any altruistic reasons about eliminating a food desert or providing benefits to the African-American communities on the Far South Side. They want to be in Chicago because they see customers who will spend their money to purchase various goods.

If in order to get these highly-desirable customers they have to pay a slightly higher wage to get workers, they will do so – even though Brady would have us believe that Illinois’ pay rate is going to cost us business.

Personally, I have always believed that one tends to get what one pays for. Perhaps it just is that we in Illinois have a higher quality of life/worker/society/etc. that makes it possible for our people to get a little bit extra.

While some businesses might very well shift to the surrounding states to try to squeeze a few extra pennies into their profit margins, businesses with sense will realize Illinois (with its dominant Chicago presence) has certain benefits those other places don’t have.

IF IT MEANS our political people ought to be thinking about how to get a larger share for our residents, then that ought to be a good thing – instead of presuming that we ought to be greatful that Wal-Mart would “bless” us with their presence within our city limits.

Which makes me wonder if Brady just can’t appreciate the concept of urban Chicago and its benefits enough to hold the top political post in Illinois state government.


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