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Report: Parts of the state's labor force face disproportionate wages

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As Labor Day approaches, new research shows how parts of Virginia's labor force are struggling to make ends meet.

In the last 20 years, the wage gap for Hispanic workers in Virginia has increased. That's according to a new report from the Commonwealth Institute and the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy. It details how Hispanic workers were paid 72 cents on the dollar back in 2001, but only 68 cents on the dollar today.

"Women of color, who are at the intersection of racism and sexism, are hit the hardest by wage inequality in Virginia," says Mel Borja at the Commonwealth Institute.

"The actual numbers themselves are quite shocking. Black women are paid just 59 cents for every dollar paid to white men, and Latina women are paid just 52 cents to every dollar."

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The report also shows two thirds of grocery store workers don't have paid sick days. Anthony Flood at the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy says lawmakers have a moral imperative to take action.

"We have learned during this pandemic how many low-paid workers were willing to put themselves at great risk for their company and for their community," Flood explains. "Matter of fact, for us all.”

Aside from requiring employers to offer five paid sick days a year, the report also recommends eliminating exemptions for farm workers that deny them a guaranteed minimum wage or overtime protection. It also says lawmakers should take action to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

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. He has reported for NPR, the New York Daily News and the Alexandria Gazette Packet. He has a master's degree in American Studies from Florida State University, and he is a former adjunct professor at Tallahassee Community College. He is the author of four books.