For National Press

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.

Jacob Swenson-Lengyel,, 312-316-3973
Jessica Juarez Scruggs,, 202-256-8778
Kristi Sanford,, 773-456-4024


Chicago, IL — Today in Cook County, Illinois, grassroots activists and County Commissioner Robert Steele unveiled the Responsible Business Act, a law that aims to put a stop to the irresponsible and unfair corporate behavior at the root of the low-wage jobs crisis. The act would require big corporations that refuse to pay their workers the Cook County Living Wage to pay a fee reimbursing the the County for providing essential services – like child care, housing and healthcare – that workers need, but cannot afford when corporations choose to inflate profit by paying poverty wages. Cook County voters support the Responsible Business Act by a two-to-one margin.

The high cost of low-wages became a focal point of national discussion in April, when the UC Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education released a study showing that corporations paying poverty wages cost U.S. taxpayers $152.8 billion each year in public support for working families. The same corporations lavish extravagant compensation packages on their CEOs and post record-breaking profits. Grassroots community advocates say this bad corporate behavior means taxpayers are ultimately subsidizing excessive corporate profits.

“Big corporations like Walmart think they can get away with cheating their workers to stuff their own pockets, all while leaving you and me to pick up the tab. We’re saying enough is enough. The Responsible Business Act charges big corporations a fee if they refuse to pay a living wage. Corporations have a responsibility to pay people enough to make ends meet. Our social safety net should be there when families need it, not line the pockets of CEOs.” said Liz Ryan Murray, Policy and Communications Director at National People’s Action.

The Responsible Business Act, sponsored by Commissioner Robert Steele and supported by IIRON and National People’s Action, requires corporations with more than 750 employees in Cook County to pay a small fee to the county for each employee paid less than the Cook County Living Wage of $14.57 per hour. The act would reward employers who pay a living wage and compel low-wage employers to pay for the cost of the damage they’re doing. When implemented, the fee will raise as much as $500 million over the next four years.

As the Cook County Board considers the legislation, local community advocates say it’s time for lawmakers and business leaders to start thinking differently about how to best stimulate economic growth.

“Poverty wages are bad for taxpayers and bad for working families. When corporations fail to meet their responsibilities to workers, it has a ripple effect on the entire economy,” said David Hatch, Executive Director of IIRON. “Coupled with government austerity, they are wreaking disaster on families in Cook County and across the country. But if we start fully funding government services and demanding corporations pay their fair share in both wages and taxes, we can stimulate our local economy. When families have more money in their pockets, they spend more at local businesses, and Cook County does better.”

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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.

IIRON is a metropolitan Chicago-based organization that trains people to understand, build, and exercise power through collective action so that powerful decision-makers act in ways that serve the interest of people and the planet, not just the interests of the wealthy and big corporations.