It’s time to raise the minimum wage

Published 11:30 am Sunday, February 16, 2020

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Two bills to raise Virginia’s minimum wage currently advancing through the General Assembly will clearly show if legislators stand with the state’s neediest workers or the business community.

Senate Bill 7 sponsored by Dick Saslow (D-Springfield), would increase the minimum wage in Virginia to $10 per hour in July. The minimum rate would then go up by $1 per year until it reaches $15 per hour in 2025. The bill will also index the rate to inflation meaning regular adjustments will be applied to the minimum wage, which has not been increased since 2009.

The typical predictions of job losses and small businesses closing came from the Republican side of the aisle, but Virginia is well behind the region and other states in raising the minimum wage. Maryland’s minimum wage is currently $10 per hour and will increase to $11 this year. The minimum wage in the District of Columbia is $14 now and will move to $15 in July. Even West Virginia has a higher minimum wage than Virginia at $8.75 per hour.

Virginia is one of 22 states who have not raised its minimum wage above the federal standard of $7.25 per hour.

Increasing the minimum wage does have positive impacts on the economy. The higher wages would stimulate consumer spending and increase demand giving consumers more money to spend at the small businesses many legislators say would be hurt by the move.

Employee productivity is also likely to increase while turnover and absenteeism will be reduced.

The move to a higher minimum wage should also help decrease dependence on social programs such as food stamps and welfare as low-wage workers move closer to sustainability with higher wages.

Increasing the minimum wage to $10 in July still would not equal the living wage calculation of $11.73 in Prince Edward County. With an unemployment rate at a low 3.3% here, employers are likely having to increase wages to find qualified applicants.

If businesses can’t afford to pay its employees a living wage in this economy, one has to wonder if it is a viable business that can continue whether the minimum wage is increased or not.

The General Assembly has taken great pride in making Virginia a good place for companies to do business. This is a chance for state government in this “work at will” state to show a measure support for the neediest workers in the system.

These low-wage workers could likely stay home and take advantage of social programs. Instead, they work two or three jobs just to put food on the table. These are the people government needs to work for and protect.

This minimum-wage increase plan is a step in the right direction.