URBANA, Ill. (WCIA) – A new study claims the pandemic business cycle brought historically-fast wage growth for the lowest-paid Americans.

The Economic Policy Institute reports that between 2019 and 2022, real wages grew 9% for the lowest-paid workers – a jump they say hasn’t been matched in 40 years. And that’s after factoring inflation in.

But, the analysis also shows those workers still suffer from inadequate pay, and the recent surge could be temporary. We spoke with Tina Stover, former Chair of the Urbana Business Association, which shut down due to pressures from the pandemic. She says while incomes have increased, so has the cost of living – and small businesses were faced with tough decisions.

“Do I hire more people? Do I let a couple of people go? Because we’re already struggling and now we have to do the wage increase which we’re happy to do, but at the same time, it’s all a balancing act for small businesses,” Stover said.

Stover also owns Enchanted Alley in downtown Urbana. Over the past few years, she says she noticed people opting to work for large companies that could carry the financial burden, while countless small businesses didn’t make it out of the pandemic.

“More and more people are saying, ‘okay, I’m going to go work for bigger corporations because they can take a fuller brunt of that impact, like Amazon… just larger businesses in general, versus the small guys. Small businesses – we’re a dying breed now,” Stover said.

The report offers several solutions, including refraining from raising interest rates too quickly, raising the federal minimum wage, investing in unemployment insurance, strengthening labor standards and removing barriers for unions.