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November 29, 2013

Bleak Friday for Many Virginians

Shoppers are flocking to retailers across the commonwealth today, frantically jockeying for the most popular gifts at the best price. But for many families the stress of holiday shopping has an added dimension as they continue to feel the pinch of the last recession on their paychecks.

While many families across Virginia are doing better than ever, prosperity is not spread evenly across the commonwealth. The state’s lowest earners – who make up to $8.18 an hour – have seen their wages decline 7 percent since 2007, while the highest-paid workers – who make above $47.97 – have seen increases of 8 percent. The recession exacerbated this inequality, but this trend has existed for decades – since 1982, incomes grew 19 times faster for the top 10 percent of earners than the bottom 10 percent.

It doesn’t have to be this way. The continued erosion of low-wage workers’ earnings underscores the importance of increasing the national minimum wage. Boosting it to $10.10 an hour would benefit more than 750,000 Virginia workers, according to the Economic Policy Institute, a non-partisan research group. The characteristics of these workers challenges widespread assumptions about low-wage earners – 57 percent are non-Hispanic whites, 54 percent work full-time, and 42 percent have some college education.

Raising the minimum wage would put $1.4 billion into workers’ pockets in the form of higher wages. Because those workers would turn around and spend most of this money on goods and services at local businesses, it’s estimated that the wage hike would create several thousand jobs while also reducing the runaway inequality that has taken root across Virginia. A boost like that could help turn a bleak Friday into a brighter one for families struggling to make ends meet.

–Mitchell Cole, Research Assistant

(Revised Dec. 1, 2013)

The Commonwealth Institute

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