New Report Details Cost of Low Wages for Cook County

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: November 19, 2015
CONTACT: Jacob Swenson-Lengyel,, 312.316.3973


CHICAGO, IL -- Today, National People’s Action released a new report titled “The Price of Poverty: How Corporations Shift Labor Costs Onto Cook County” which details the impact low wages on county government and the broader community. Nearly 20% of Cook County residents live in poverty and roughly 20% more are barely scraping by just above the poverty line. According to the new report, much of this poverty can be traced to corporations who push their labor costs onto taxpayers and county government, causing significant damage to the local economy. The report suggests the proposed Responsible Business Act would create an incentive for large employers to take responsibility for their own labor costs and provide critical revenue for services that hard-working low-wage workers depend on like child care, health care and affordable housing.

“This report makes it crystal clear: paying poverty wages hurts working families, hurts our local economy and hurts responsible employers who are trying to do right by their employees,” said Liz Ryan Murray, Policy Director of National People’s Action. “Cook County residents are being asked to pay more in sales tax, it’s past time for corporations to pay their fair share.”

The report lays out how low wage employers externalize labor costs, making County County residents pick up the tab.

  • While employee compensation has fallen to the lowest level in 65 years, corporate profits have been soaring, last year reaching their highest level in 85 years. 
  • Poverty caused by low wages costs Cook County’s economy $1.2 billion each year, with $200 million more attributable partly to low wages.
  • Low wages push costs onto Cook County, like the $164 million the county has budgeted for unreimbursed health care costs in 2015.

“There are thousands of hard-working low wage workers like me in Cook County who are struggling just to scrape by,” says Gianna Chacon, a retail worker earning $10 per hour.  “At the same time, their employers – companies like McDonald's and Walmart – make billions of dollars every year. These companies can afford to pay us enough to live on, someone needs to make sure large corporations either pay a living wage or pay for the public services that workers like me need to get by.”

As Cook County’s economy slowly recovers, it is more critical than ever that we invest in working families. The Responsible Business Act would create jobs in Cook County by putting money back in the pockets of working families and providing funding for vital public services. When workers earn more money and have the services the need, they spend more at local businesses, which grows our economy and creates new jobs.

“The Responsible Business Act is a win-win,” said David Borris, owner of Hel’s Kitchen Catering, a local small business. “It will strengthen Cook County’s economy, level the playing field for responsible businesses, and expand essential programs that ensure low wage workers and their families can survive."

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National People's Action is a network of 29 grassroots organizations in 18 states working together to advance a racial and economic justice agenda for a new economy and true democracy.