DePaul University college professors and students say living on minimum wage in Chicago is not realistic


Rich Pedroncelli | AP Democratic Assemblyman Chris Holden, third from left, poses for a photo with fellow Democrats, Evan Low, left, Luz Rivas, second from left, and and Wendy Carrillo, right, after his fast food employee measure was approved by the Assembly in Sacramento, Calif., Monday, Jan. 31, 2022. California’s more than half-million fast food workers would get increased power and protections under Holden’s first-in-the-nation measure. Low, Rivas and Carrillo were all co-authors of the bill.

Inflation has been eating away at the spending power of workers’ dollars — leaving them hungry.

The pieces of common consumer goods from eggs and clothes to cars and electricity have risen — some at rates not seen in 40 years.

On Thursday, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics announced that the Consumer Price Index (CPI) has climbed at the fastest pace in four-decades: In January, it rose 7.5 percent compared to a year ago.

CPI is a commonly-used measure of inflation and measures the prices of everyday consumer goods like food and electricity.

This is the first time most college students are experiencing significant inflation, with rates the highest they’ve been since 1980.

DePaul students working minimum wage jobs feel the strain.

Many Chicagoans earn less than what some refer to as a “living wage.” Chicago’s minimum wage is currently $15 per hour, and Illinois as a whole mandates a minimum pay of $12 per hour. Companies with less than 21 employees or who hired tipped workers can get away with paying less — $14 per hour for employers with four to 20 employees and $9 for most tipped employees.

“I make $15 per hour, living off my paycheck is not a realistic lifestyle; I constantly feel financially restricted,” said Isabella Villalobos, a sophomore at DePaul University studying economics.

Current inflation rates far exceed the comfortable two to three percent limit set by the Federal Reserve as an approtionate inflation target.

“The minimum wages in Illinois and Chicago are among the highest in the nation,” said Liliana Fargo, an economics adjunct professor at DePaul University. “But it is important to recognize that local wages (including minimum wages) need to take into account differences in the cost of living across regions for a proper adjustment based on purchasing power and that typically large cities have a higher cost of living conditions.”

A single person living in Cook County would need to earn $16.32 per hour, working full-time, to support themself, according to the MIT Living Wage Calculator. This number takes into account over $3,000 in food, nearly the same in medical expenses, over $11,000 in housing and about $5,000 in transportation, all adding up to a required income of $33,953 — and that’s before taxes. If a person needs to support family members or children, that required income quickly skyrockets.

“Nobody can live on minimum wage, hence the name,” said Jumana Khalifeh, an adjunct sociology professor at DePaul University. “Life is expensive, rent, transportation and necessities are very expensive. If people want to live a better life, I believe the minimum wage in Chicago should be raised to $20 per hour.”

Even if students can scrape by on minimum wage, Villalobos said it doesn’t make life difficult.

“Being a college student in Chicago is difficult; from paying for public transportation to necessities such as groceries, my money comes and goes,” Villalobos said. “Because of how expensive everything is in the city, I rarely get to treat myself, and if I do, it is once a month.”

Statewide, the minimum wage rose to $12 per hour on Jan. 1, 2022, and will continue to increase until it hits $15 per hour in 2025. Within the same timeframe, pay for tipped workers will gradually increase to $9 per hour.

“I’m not claiming that what I do is extraordinary or that I deserve to be paid extremely high, but when you consider how costly Chicago is, inflation rates and the costs of being a college student … it shows that $15 per hour is insufficient to support myself,” Villalobos said.