Cook County passed an ordinance earlier this summer that will gradually raise the minimum wage from the state-mandated $8.25 an hour to $13 an hour earlier. As a result, Evanston’s minimum wage increased to $10 an hour beginning July 1.
Towns in the county could choose to opt out if desired, which Evanston neighbor Wilmette did within weeks since the wage hike became official. Back in July, Evanston mayor Steve Hagerty called an emergency meeting to discuss potentially passing an opt-out measure, but the meeting shut down after a crowd of 150 protesters (including Rep. Jan Schakowsky) showed up outside City Hall to advocate for the increase.
"I support implementation of the Cook County minimum wage ordinance,” Hagerty told the Chicago Tribune after the protestors successfully prevented the meeting. “I believe the community has spoken loud and clear.”
For Northwestern students, Evanston’s wage increase means that everyone employed through work-study, or through university-sponsored “temp” jobs, are now getting paid at least $10 an hour. Prior to the increase, Work Study Coordinator Anne Horne said that the campus average pay was about $9.90 an hour, so over half of all employed students experienced a raise in wages. Horne said this was a measure that received absolutely no pushback from employers.
“If you think about it, the on-campus employers pay 30 percent of their students’ wage, so they’re basically paying $3/hr for these Northwestern students,” Horne said. “It’s a cost savings for employers on campus. They should be happy they get such great students for $3 an hour.”
Horne also said because financial aid packages were allotted before Work Study knew about the wage increase, many students now only can work about 6-9 hours a week maximum if they want to make their Work Study allotment last the whole year. Consequently, now both work study and non-work-study students alike can can enjoy more free time in their schedules.
Weinberg junior Kinsey Erickson, who worked three non-work-study jobs to cover all of her expenses last year, quit her third job this year and still makes the same amount of money as a result of the increase. This was important to her, as she is responsible for paying for her tuition, rent and groceries, in addition to the club dues for the multiple extracurriculars she belongs to.
“Being able to quit a job made my life so much better,” Erickson said. “I get more evenings now, so I can actually do homework. I can actually sleep more than like three hours, and I can still do all of the extracurriculars I really like doing.”
Erickson currently works at the Knight Lab and at the Media and Design Studio in Kresge, and formerly worked at Phone-A-thon. Furthermore, last year she took five classes in hopes of graduating early so she can pay for fewer quarters of tuition.
“My entire day, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., was filled with classes and work, and then when I had my Phone-A-Thon days I would go there straight from class until 10:30 p.m.,” Erickson said. “That was just exhausting, because then I’d have all my homework and work for my sorority and stuff like that. I did not sleep a lot.”
The wage increase helped Erickson in more ways than by just giving her extra time for homework. Getting paid $10 an hour also alleviated the physical stress of having to work that many hours.
“When I was struggling with money last year, the first thing I stopped spending money on was healthy food,” Erickson said. “So I got sick a lot last year just because I wasn’t eating regularly or well, which then made everything else kind of terrible. But now I can actually buy things like vegetables, which is nice.”
Many students like Erickson are now able to enjoy extra time in their schedules, and perhaps even a few extra dollars in their bank account. Next year, the minimum wage for Cook County will rise even higher to $11 an hour – and it will continue to rise by $1 an hour every year until it caps off at $13 an hour in 2020.