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Religion references frame House debate on Republican proposal to stop minimum wage increases

Nick Freitas House of Delegates General Assembly
Steve Helber/AP
Virginia Del. Nick Freitas, R-Culpeper, gestures during the House session at the Capitol Monday Jan. 31, 2022, in Richmond, Va. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Biblical references took center stage during speeches on the floor of the House of Delegates as lawmakers debated a Republican bill to stop scheduled raises in the minimum wage Monday.

The minimum wage in Virginia is now $11 an hour and scheduled to go to $12 in 2023. Democrats passed a bill that scheduled increases until reaching $15 an hour in 2026.

Delegate Angelia Williams-Graves, a Democrat from Norfolk, referenced the Biblical book of Matthew.

“For I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink,” Williams-Graves said.

“So when we continue to increase the minimum wage, we don’t do it for the righteous, who have plenty, we do it for the hungry who need to buy food.”

Culpeper Delegate Nick Freitas, who is sponsoring the freeze, said that the bill is about ensuring opportunities for those wanting entry-level jobs.

“A closer look at Matthew reveals that nowhere when Christ is admonishing all of us to take care of the least among us, does he then go on to say, ‘And that's why the Roman empire or the Sanhedrin or Herod's government should engage in arbitrary price floors when it comes to the labor market,’” he said.

Freitas cited a report from the Congressional Budget Office that said that raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour would reduce employment by 1.4 million jobs.

“It's not the book of Matthew that tells us why the minimum wage doesn't hurt low wage workers,” said Delegate Sally Hudson, a Democrat of Charlottesville. “It's the book of Joshua and of David, not the prophets, but Joshua Angrist and David Card. They were awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics last year for 30 years of work, establishing that the predictions that raising the minimum wage lowers net income from low wage workers, just don't pan out in practice.”

In 1994, one paper by Card compared the effects on employment of a minimum wage increase n New Jersey to employment in Pennsylvania, which did not implement an increase. Card and his coauthor found no evidence that the minimum wage increase reduced employment.

“Now that I'm both a preacher's kid and a professor of economics,” said Hudson, who is a labor economist at the University of Virginia, “I understand even better that that simple belief that raising the minimum wage hurts workers is an article of faith, not an economic fact.”

Republicans in the House moved the bill to stop raises in the minimum wage on to its final reading. Senate Democrats stopped a similar bill in committee earlier in the legislative session.

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

Jahd Khalil is a reporter and producer in Richmond.