06/27/2014 11:30 am ET Updated Aug 27, 2014

Why It Makes No Sense to Cut the Minimum Wage


On the eve of signing the Fair Labor Standards Act 76 years ago, which established the minimum wage, Franklin Delano Roosevelt addressed a nation weary from a Great Depression spawned by the forces of reckless greed, exploitation and speculation.

Only a year before, FDR had called for a special session to pass the legislation in the midst of a titanic fight that looks and sounds very much like what's playing out today in places like Illinois.

The people were on his side. But FDR faced massive opposition from corporate interests. Doomsayers claimed that the 25 cents increase per hour sought by Roosevelt would maroon a struggling economy. Using his powers of persuasion, and leveraging the strong support from the public against "starvation wages," FDR eventually prevailed.

On the eve of signing the minimum wage into existence, FDR had a response for his political enemies, whose opposition to his efforts for working families bordered on mania:

"Do not let any calamity-howling executive with an income of $1,000 a day [...] tell you -- using his stockholders' money to pay the postage for his personal opinions that a wage of $11 a week is going to have a disastrous effect on all American industry."

Today, running for governor is Bruce Rauner, who doesn't make $1,000 a day -- he makes more than $1,000 per minute, and has echoed the same sentiments expressed some eight decades ago.

Like the pessimists FDR faced, Rauner inaccurately claims that raising the minimum wage would have a disastrous effect on the Illinois economy. This assertion comes after he advocated lowering the Illinois minimum wage from $8.25 per hour to the federal level of $7.25 per hour.

I recently signed into law legislation that will raise our state's minimum wage to $10.50 per hour by 2018.

States like Vermont understand that working people can't support their families on the current minimum wage, and a modest increase will give these families a boost and contribute to our economy by getting just a little more money into the pockets of people who will spend it in their communities.

We did this because we understood that FDR -- and your own Gov. Pat Quinn -- was as right about the minimum wage just as Mr. Rauner is dead wrong now.

In his Tribune editorial, Rauner claimed that raising the minimum wage would make Illinois less competitive. In fact, raising the minimum wage provides more Americans with more money to spend and invest, which increases economic activity and growth. Even more, studies show that raising the minimum wage makes workers more productive and helps businesses retain profitability -- just look at Gap Inc.'s decision to raise the minimum wage voluntarily for its employees.

Here's another fact about a minimum wage hike -- it's good for women. Women account for about two-thirds of workers whose incomes would rise by increasing the minimum wage. Illinois is in a stronger economic position when women are in a stronger economic position.

What will put Illinois at a disadvantage are Republicans, like Bruce Rauner, who stand in the way of progress. Governor Quinn is not only a leader making progress, but he is someone that is doing the right thing because he knows that no one working 40 hours or more a week should live in poverty.

Decades ago, FDR chose the right path for our country and prevailed in the face of opposition determined to block a fair wage for our workers. That same opposition, sadly, is alive and well today thanks to Bruce Rauner. But Governor Pat Quinn, like other Democratic governors around our country, will continue to fight for what is right for Illinois, and will have the people on his side.