Virginia’s minimum wage increases to $9.50

Published: Apr. 30, 2021 at 5:10 PM EDT
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - The minimum wage in Virginia is set to rise from $7.25 to $9.50 Saturday, May 1, 2021. It’s the first change since 2009.

Advocates, like Del. Rip Sullivan, Virginia’s House Democratic Caucus chairman, have pushed for this for years: “Someone could be working a 40-hour minimum wage and still be well beneath the poverty line.”

Opponents, though, worry about small businesses making payroll on the heels of an already tough year.

“It’s going to put an extra burden on these companies,” said Joyce Waugh, the president and CEO of the Roanoke Regional Chamber.

This pay scale change comes as businesses struggle to fill open jobs.

Tim Saunders with Virginia Career Works says those vacancies could be related to childcare, health and safety concerns, and more, not just boosted unemployment payouts.

“There could be any number of barriers that people are facing that are preventing them from applying for work, so I don’t think that we should make generalizations when it comes to unemployment,” Saunders said.

Because of that, Saunders is not sure a higher minimum wage will impact current employment levels.

“The employers that I’ve talked to recently, that are trying to fill positions, they are offering wages that are above what the new minimum wage will be here in Virginia, so $10 an hour and up,” said Saunders.

The Hotel Roanoke, though, has had recent success after boosting starting wages.

The hotel is now offering a minimum of $11/hour, which is what the state minimum wage will be in January after another increase.

“The Hotel Roanoke has always been a leading employer for our industry, in hotels, and we’re proud to continue to maintain a lead with our wage scale strategy,” said hotel general manager, Brian Wells.

Since the new $11 pay rate was announced, the Hotel Roanoke has received more than 30 applications in just a week. The hotel is also bumping up pay rates for current employees.

While some say that promotes worker retention, opponents say it will harm already struggling small businesses.

“When you add all of that to a pretty tight payroll, they’re either going to possibly have to raise prices or reduce people and hours,” said Waugh.

“Our view is that it’s a cost worth incurring, as it were, in terms of keeping a happy, healthy workforce,” said Sullivan.

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