With federal minimum wage stuck at $7.25/hour for over a decade, the General Assembly is finally trying to get Virginia workers a little more cash.
For the first time in over a decade, Virginia’s workers might be getting a raise.
The Senate passed a bill by a vote of 21-19 that would incrementally increase the commonwealth’s minimum wage to $15 by the year 2025. A House of Delegates bill that is largely identical passed in the House on the same day, by a vote of 55-45.
Both bills are now working their way through the General Assembly’s reconciliation process, in which the bills are combined into a single bill that eliminates any inconsistencies between the two. However, short of a few details, it seems likely that a minimum wage increase of some sort will reach the governor’s desk.
As the legislation attempts to alleviate worker’s incomes, the poverty rate in Virginia stands at 10.1 percent. According to the Commonwealth Institute, 1.2 million Virginia workers would benefit from a $15 minimum wage increase.
Richmond resident Thomas Scott, who works two jobs that pay under minimum wage, believes that the bill will greatly benefit low paid workers.
“I support the $15 minimum wage,” said Scott. “If I had one I’d be able to quit my delivery job and focus on helping at-risk kids at public schools.”
If Gov. Northam signs the eventual bill, the commonwealth would join several others in raising their minimum wage laws. The year began with 21 states raising their minimum wages, including Ohio, Florida, Maryland, and New York.
World of Mirth, which remains the only locally-owned alternative toy store in Richmond, fully embraces the bills, along with other pro-labor legislation. The Carytown small business already starts employees above the current minimum wage, as do quite a few other businesses.
“I completely support raising the minimum wage to a living wage,” said World of Mirth owner Thea Brown. “Virginia has been behind the times in this matter, and if we want to attract workers to our state, we have to be able to compete with a living wage.”
Republican Senator Steve Newman, however, does not support the increase. He addressed his reasons for opposing the law in a recent facebook post. “I recognize the need for people to make a living wage and I fully support that concept,” Newman stated. “But, I believe setting a minimum wage should include thoughtful consideration of many factors, including each region’s economy, workforce, and cost of living.”
Proponents of the legislation are pointing to the bill’s gradual increase in wages over a five-year span as a factor that will help businesses adjust. The bill increases the state’s minimum wage to $10 by 2020; $11 by 2021; $12 by 2022; to $13 by 2023; to $14 by 2024; and to $15 by 2025.
“I realize that a jump from the current rate to $15 overnight would not be manageable for most small businesses,” said Brown. “But I believe that the annual incremental increase is a fair compromise.”
Economic reports on the effects of wage increases have been conflicting. A study by the University of California Berkeley found that Seattle’s economy improved and workers were helped after the city increased its minimum wage five years ago. However, a study by the University of Washington found the law had cost jobs.
“Putting a fair wage into the hands of citizens will allow them to put more money back into our economy, instead of worrying if they can cover their bills,” said Brown.
Virginia last raised its minimum wage in 2009, when a three-part process was completed to raise the threshold from $5.15 to $7.25. This occurred due to an increase in federal minimum wage requirements. However, the current bills in the General Assembly would only affect wages in Virginia.
Prior efforts to lift the minimum wage have failed. Republican lawmakers in the House of Delegates voted down two bills in 2014 that increased the minimum wage rate. During the 2018 session, a bill to eventually raise the state’s minimum wage to $11.25 passed the Senate, but subsequently failed in a House committee.
“It is imperative to compensate people for their work, allowing them to be financially able to take care of themselves and whomever else they choose,” said Brown.