Legislator Wants to Increase Minimum Wage

By: Lisa Ferrari
By: Lisa Ferrari

January 20, 2006

Minimum wage has been $5.15 since 1997. Now state law makers including our own Delegate David Toscano are trying to get a bill passed that will raise the minimum wage in Virginia.

Advocates for a higher minimum wage say that people getting paid minimum wage have to work 125 hours a week just to afford their rent, and that does not include other household expenses.

"If I have a hard time at $10 an hour, I can only imagine what people are doing trying to live on minimum wage," said Pat Woodward who is looking for a second part time job.

Woodward makes about double minimum wage, and that is still not enough to make ends meet. Now pat is hunting for a second job. The Virginia Employment Commission says that it isn't uncommon.

"Some are working actually two full-time jobs in an effort to be independent," said Teresa Turner, Acting Director of the Virginia Employment Commission.

Most jobs in Charlottesville pay more than the minimum. In fact, all 160 job openings listed at the Virginia Employment Commission are paying at least $6.50 and hour.

"You can't live independently if you're earning under, say $8 an hour," said Turner.

The Federal Minimum wage hasn't changed since 1997. Eighteen states have established their own minimum wage, and 57th District Delegate Toscano wants Virginia to join those states. He's patroned a bill that would raise the minimum wage one dollar a year for the next three years.

Advocates for a higher minimum wage say anyone paid the minimum has to work over 125 hours a week just to pay rent on an average two bedroom apartment let alone other expenses.

"A single mother of two who is earning minimum wage would bringing home before taxes just a little over $10,000 a year and that would put her almost $5,000 below the federal poverty standard," said Karen Waters, a member of the Virginia Organizing Project board.

However, on the other side of the coin, businesses, especially mom and pops stores, say they couldn't survive a wage increase.

"Employers are being realistic when they say the bottom line would increase. They would have to pay out more in wages. And unless they see an increase in earnings, they are not going to be able to employ as many individuals," said Turner.

Employees, though, say any little bit would help.

"I can't imagine the people with families with children, how they make it. I have no idea," said Woodward.

Delegate Toscano is not the only Virginia lawmaker proposing that the minimum wage be increased. At least one other bill will be presented in the House in the coming weeks. Minimum wage started in 1928 at $0.25 an hour.

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