SPRINGFIELD -- Republican U.S. Senate candidate Jim Oberweis wants to gradually raise the Illinois minimum wage to $10 an hour for workers 26 years old and older.
The Sugar Grove Republican's proposal in the state Senate would boost the minimum wage for most workers from $8.25 an hour to $9 on Jan. 1, 2015. It would jump again on the first day of 2016 to $9.50 and finally to $10 on Jan. 1, 2017.
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"The people that would be most hurt would be young minority teenagers entering the workforce," Oberweis said of a minimum wage hike for everyone.
"Minimum wage jobs are entry level jobs," he said. "They're jobs for teenagers and young adults to get their first experience in the workforce to know what's important to get promotions and hopefully to move on to higher paying jobs."
The minimum wage has been a hot-button issue this election year, after President Barack Obama called for a federal minimum wage hike last January in his State of the Union address.
Democrats across the country on the state and national level have pushed for increases, too.
Oberweis is running against U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, a Springfield Democrat, who criticized the plan for missing a major portion of the population.
"Sen. Durbin believes that no one that gets up and works hard should live in poverty," Durbin spokesman Ron Holmes said . "His plan would use age as a qualifier for poverty and that's not acceptable."
Durbin supports a minimum-wage increase for all ages, and after the State of the Union address, he said it's time for the county to start talking about a raise.
Oberweis, who has sought to highlight his business experience in the campaign, says teenage employees at Oberweis Dairy start at minimum wage.
"Our store workers are guaranteed the minimum wage but have an opportunity to earn more than that based on productivity and sales," Oberweis said.
Oberweis introduced the proposal this week in response to state Sen. Kimberly Lightford's plan for a minimum wage hike. The Maywood Democrat's proposal would raise the minimum wage to $10 an hour on July 1, 2015 and $10.65 by 2016, regardless of age.
Oberweis calls his plan a "compromise" and Lightford's plan a "job killer."
Gov. Pat Quinn has gotten behind Lightford's plan, which passed a Senate committee last month and has yet to be debated on the chamber floor.
The minimum wage hike has been a major component of Quinn's re-election bid. Last month he was at a Gap clothing store in downtown Chicago to promote his plan to raise the minimum wage to $10 an hour by the end of the year.