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Some Illinois Workers Cheated Out of Full Paychecks

New research shows many Illinois workers are being cheated out of their full paychecks. (V. Carter)
New research shows many Illinois workers are being cheated out of their full paychecks. (V. Carter)
May 22, 2017

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – Hundreds of thousands of people in Illinois live in poverty, and new research suggests that number would be lower if some workers weren't being cheated out of pay they have earned.

The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) examined reports of minimum wage theft in the 10 most populous states, including Illinois.

Among those states, the report found each year 2.4 million workers are being paid less than minimum wage, amounting to more than $8 billion in lost wages annually.

Report co-author David Cooper, a senior economic analyst with EPI, says nearly 1 in 5 of these workers live in poverty.

"If every worker who reported being paid less than the minimum wage simply got brought up, 160,000 fewer workers would be in poverty,” he states. “That's not going to be a silver bullet that changes the whole poverty landscape, but that does mean a lot more folks who are able to afford their basic needs without having to turn to basic assistance programs."

The report says wage theft can take many forms, including paying workers less than the minimum wage, overtime and mealtime violations, tip theft and employee misclassification.

Cooper notes wage theft has a disproportionate impact on already vulnerable populations. He says research shows tougher wage-theft violation penalties would be beneficial.

"It tends to be younger workers,” he points out. “It's majority women. People of color tend to be more likely to be victims of wage theft, and also immigrant workers.

“Workers who were not born in the U.S. tend to experience higher rates of wage theft than U.S.-born workers."

The U.S. Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division investigates minimum-wage violations.

But Cooper notes the agency is stretched thin, with nearly the same number of investigators it had almost seven decades ago.

Veronica Carter, Public News Service - IL