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COVID-19 Could Stir New Debate Over Virginia's Minimum Wage

AP Photo / Steve Helber

Governor Ralph Northam isn’t just dealing with the pandemic. He’s also considering hundreds of bills lawmakers sent to him last month. And, the economic crisis is shining a new light on one potentially critical decision.

When Democrats took control of the General Assembly this year, one of their top priorities was raising the minimum wage. After some considerable drama, they sent the governor a bill that increases the minimum wage to $12 an hour by January 2023.

Chris Braunlich at the Thomas Jefferson Institute says the economic crisis should persuade the governor to think twice about that. 

“By January 2021, which is when the minimum wage increases begin to take effect, we’re still going to be in recovery,” he says. “And the reality is simply this: If you raise the cost of creating a job, you’re going to get less of them.”

Phil Hernandez at the Commonwealth Institute says giving more money to low-wage workers is really good for the economy because they’re more likely to spend it. 

“This COVID-19 pandemic is reminding us that many essential jobs in our community are actually minimum wage jobs,” Hernandez explains. “If you think about the people who are on the front lines of the health care system, the people who make sure that our families have food to put on the table, these people provide really vital services to us right now and I think that they deserve a minimum wage.”

The minimum wage in Virginia is currently the federally mandated $7.25 an hour. If Northam signs the bill it would go up to $9.50 an hour in January 2021 and then up to $12 in January 2023. Lawmakers would then study if they could take a regional approach to raising it more in different parts of Virginia.

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.