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Should Virginia Consider a Regional Minimum Wage?

Lawmakers in Richmond are moving forward with increasing the minimum wage. But, some are pressing for regional variation.

Republicans have lost the battle against raising the minimum wage, and Democrats are poised to approve an effort to almost double it from $7.25 an hour to $15 an hour. But should the minimum wage be the same in Alexandria as it is in Norton or Wise County?

Senate Republican Leader Tommy Norment says the number should have regional variation.

“And so when we talk about phasing in a minimum wage, that might seem like a de minimis amount in Northern Virginia," he says. "But $15 an hour in southwest Virginia or in Southside is very significant.”

Norment and other Republicans are pressing for a study to look at how a minimum wage might have some kind of regional variation in Virginia based on the local economy.

Senate Democratic Leader Dick Saslaw says he’s hearing from big retail chains they think regional variation would be too much of a headache. 

“Regional variation is going to be very difficult to do," Saslaw explains. "I’m not saying it can’t be done, but if somebody lives in one district and the other’s 10 or 15 miles away, they’re not going to want to work… they’re going to go to where they can get the higher wage.”

If Democrats are successful in raising the minimum wage, it’ll be the first raise for low-wage workers in Virginia in more than a decade.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria.