Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Virginia Lawmakers Pass Minimum Wage Increase, Paid Family Leave

A Virginia worker who takes a month of unpaid leave loses more than $3,700 in income. (Adobe Stock)

RICHMOND — Virginia lawmakers have approved several bills in the final weeks of their session, including a minimum wage hike.

The current minimum wage is $12 an hour, but around 500,000 Virginians make that or less. It would increase to $15 an hour by 2026. The Center for Economic and Policy Research reported if the minimum wage had kept up with worker productivity, it would be more than $21 an hour.

Kelsey Cowger, press secretary for Progress Virginia, said the increase would help people afford the state’s growing cost of living.

“The state actually released its own study that indicated that the cheapest place you can live in order to fit within the guidelines where you are only spending a third of your income on rent, you’d need to make $14.55,” Cowger reported.

Gov. Glenn Youngkin and others oppose the bill, which they contended could lead to the demise of some restaurants and other small businesses. The legislation was expanded to include farmworkers, who often get poverty-level wages. If Youngkin vetoes the bill, Cowger feels the state could at least build off the bill by being more mindful of inflationary pressures on low-wage workers.

The General Assembly has also passed a paid family medical leave. It would provide private-sector employees with eight weeks of paid leave, and create a pooled fund to help them with costs while they’re not working.

Like the minimum wage bill, it faces opposition from the governor but Cowger argued Virginia should have learned something about the need for family leave from the pandemic.

“We saw caregiving responsibilities — that already kind of disproportionately fall on women and people of color — we saw those get exacerbated,” Cowger pointed out. “We saw people of color also disproportionately leaving the workforce, which leads to racial disparities in wealth.”

Around 76% of Virginians do not have paid family medical leave through their jobs, a common trend across the U.S. And unpaid leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act is inaccessible to 61% of Virginia workers.

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