State Rep. Lance Yednock, D-Ottawa, took center stage at a small business advisory council Tuesday evening at the 807 Building in Ottawa to address the concerns of business owners.
An overarching conversation involved minimum wage, with Yednock himself starting by asking for the audience’s thoughts and noting he voted for the increases that will incrementally bring the minimum wage up to $15 by 2025.
“A large part of our workforce is working in minimum wage jobs now and they’re surviving. They’re not just teenage jobs anymore. A majority of them are single mothers trying to raise kids,” Yednock said.
The event was hosted by the Ottawa Area Chamber of Commerce and Industry during its Chamber Week celebration.
One audience member said small businesses already are struggling to survive and asked whether the increase would cause more to close.
Yednock said in the studies they’ve read, increases introduced over a multi-year period of time tend to improve an economy in the long term.
“We do believe if it goes up in increments like we’re talking over five years, that we should be able to adjust to it,” he said.
He said many small businesses have come and gone prior to the decision to increase the minimum wage and it’s the hope that by increasing wages for all, the average consumer will have more spending power to not only take care of themselves but spend into the economy.
He added that if the “experiment” is unsuccessful, it can be assessed.
“I’m not saying we would put a pause on it, but we have the option to do that,” Yednock said.
“I’m not going to mince words. I have my concerns about it as we go through it. I think with the first couple of years, I think we’ll be able to adjust and I hope it plays out,” he added.
Jeremiah Joe Coffee owner DeWayne Cronkright was in attendance and said he asked in curiosity what local businesses were doing to manage the increased wage costs.
Yednock said the studies mainly focused on the effects of the increase on the economy but noted some businesses raised prices.
Another person mentioned concern about teenagers effectively working jobs and making $30,000 while skilled jobs such as teachers could be making $35,000.
Yednock said teenagers, under the age of 18, would have a different minimum wage that is $2 less. Audience members said this could lead to a dispute among workers if a teenager is doing the same work as an adult but being paid less; Yednock said it could be argued the teenager likely still receives support from parents and will be receiving a higher rate of pay anyway through the wage increase. But he noted owners are able to pay teenagers above the minimum wage should they want to do so.
He also noted the minimum salary for Illinois teachers is expected to go up to $40,000 under a new bill.
Yednock said he appreciated the comments raised during the session and encouraged businesses to continue reaching out with information about bills that could help or hurt them.
“I don’t want to do anything that will hurt small business or any business, small, large or medium. I want more growth in the state of Illinois,” Yednock said. “There’s always going to be a trade-off on what we think we have to do to have a decent budget, to make Illinois a stable place to live and fix what is broken.”
A number of other topics were raised during the session including:
What’s the plan to reduce population leaving Illinois? Are elected officials concerned?
Yednock said there was an “urgency” of both parties to find ways to encourage residents and businesses to remain in Illinois. He said the current strategy is to stabilize the budget and address long-term debt. He added that property taxes need to be addressed while maintaining or increasing the state’s education system.
Can something be done about increasing automation jobs? Is this a concern?
Yednock said yes, but he doesn’t think it’s a new issue and noted businesses have been looking into automation for a long time.
“I think that’s just the natural maturity of the market,” Yednock said.
The issue does concern him in the long term as it could result in fewer jobs for residents, but he said it likely will need to be tackled on the federal level.
Is worker’s compensation reform on the horizon?
Yednock said currently no law has been presented to address worker’s compensation.
Mike Stevenson, of Stevenson Transfer, said Illinois is paying 40% more for workers' compensation than Indiana.
Yednock said he’ll further research the issue and look at comparable states.