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September 1, 2022

‘State of Working Virginia’ Reveals How Far Virginia Has Come – and How Much Further It Has Yet to Go – for Working People

New report provides comprehensive research on wages and supports for working people; people of color continue to face additional barriers to economic stability

Working people, advocates, and policy experts held a press conference today to roll out a new report by The Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis and Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy. As Virginians celebrate Labor Day weekend, “State of Working Virginia” outlines comprehensive and up-to-date research about workers’ lives as well as recommendations for advocacy and organizing.

“Over the last five years, there have been some important policy strides centering issues of concern for workers, especially those paid low wages,” said Mel Borja, Worker Power Policy Analyst at The Commonwealth Institute, “But this new recent report shows many workers are still facing barriers to economic stability, particularly for Black and Latinx Virginians who have faced long-standing racial discrimination in education, hiring, and wages.”

According to the report, those barriers have led to alarming new data. The wage gap for Virginia’s Black workers has barely shrunk since 1979. Black workers in Virginia were paid 72 cents for every dollar a white worker was paid in 1979 and 74 cents for every dollar a white worker made in 2021. The wage gap between Hispanic and non-Hispanic white workers has actually widened from 72 cents for every dollar in 2001 (the earliest data available) to 68 cents for every dollar in 2021. Women of color – who are at the intersection of racism and sexism – are hit the hardest by wage inequality in Virginia, with Black women being paid just 59 cents for every dollar paid to white men and Latina women being paid just 52 cents.

In addition to data about workers’ income and wages, the report shows that there is a lack of comprehensive and widespread support for workers in Virginia — such as paid sick days or paid time off, affordable child care, and adequate employment benefits. Without careful planning for the future and adequate implementation of Virginia’s laws, many Virginians may lose health care or fall victim to wage theft. The report also details the benefits of unionization for workers, the history of worker organizing in Virginia, and what major challenges that limit workers’ right to organize in Virginia still exist.

“‘The State of Working Virginia’ is a data driven report that helps people of faith and people of goodwill know how to support their friends and neighbors who struggle to make ends meet,” said Kim Bobo, Executive Director of Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy. “Loving your neighbor as yourself is not an abstract concept, but rather a principle that can guide Virginia’s policy makers in making life better for workers in low-wage jobs.” 

“The report is not just a list of important facts and figures related to the workers in Virginia but it’s a call to action and an invitation to look deeply at what the data is telling us,” said Ashley Kenneth, President and CEO of The Commonwealth Institute. “Virginia is a top 10 state when it comes to median household income, yet many workers, particularly workers of color, are still facing significant barriers to economic stability. We have and should take the opportunity to ensure that Virginia not only remains a top state for business but becomes a top state for the workers that make business possible.”

“We have learned during this pandemic how many low-paid workers were willing to put themselves at great risk for their company and for their community,” said Reverend Doctor Anthony Fludd,  Assistant Pastor at St. Johns Church of God in Christ in Newport News and Vice-Chair of the Board, Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy. “So let us recognize the many people whose work is a blessing to society, yet they are struggling to care for their own family. Who is willing to speak the truth and stand in the gap to address low wages? We must act and we must compel our legislators to act.”

As Virginia’s workers and advocates prepare for the upcoming legislative session, this report provides legislative and organizing advocacy recommendations that may be useful in developing and improving systems that allow everyone the opportunity to thrive and to share in the prosperity that working people help to create.

The Commonwealth Institute

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