Some Virginia Workers Are Continuing to Deal With Low Wages

Aug 29, 2019

Credit MBandman / Creative Commons

Service sector employees in Virginia have been struggling for years with low wages. And now, they are looking ahead to an uncertain future.

Cashiers and people who work in retail sales and cooks are all stuck at the bottom of the wage scale in Virginia, according to Census numbers.

Chris Wodicka at the Commonwealth Institute says service sector employees in Virginia have lived with stubbornly low wages for years, even while everybody else was benefiting from the recovery.

“And they have not really seen any kind of significant wage increases despite our current economic expansion now being the longest on record,” Wodicka explains.

One solution, he says, is a bill in the U.S. Senate that would expand the earned-income tax credit and expand child tax credits.

Mark Warner and Tim Kaine have both signed on as co-sponsors. And it’s an effort that comes at a time with the Department of Labor is reporting 7.4 million job openings but only 6 million people looking for work.

“And that’s just not something that happens," says John Provo at Virginia Tech. “We’re really at a place where nearly every industry now has a labor shortage, and employers are having a harder time filling blue-collar jobs.”

He says it’s not really clear why wages aren’t going up in service sector jobs like cashiers and cooks. But, he says, it raises questions about immigration and automation.

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