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Raise The Minimum Wage? Public Opinion in Virginia And Beyond

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By The Center for Public Policy at VCU’s Wilder School
November 23, 2019

Across the country, a vast number of employees are demanding that employers raise their minimum wages to $15/hour. Many private businesses have responded, including companies such as Target, which recently increased its minimum wage to $13/hour with a goal of $15/hour by the end of 2020, and Amazon, which increased wages to $15/hour yet also decreased other employee incentives such as stock awards.

State and federal governments, however, have not been as quick to respond. Currently, the federal minimum wage rests at $7.25, with a number of states adopting the same amount. While some states such as Virginia, (where policymakers have consistently maintained the federal minimum wage of $7.25), have raised the minimum wage in 2019, the trend is not consistent throughout the country.

The Center for Public Policy at Virginia Commonwealth University’s L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs sought to explore this issue further in the Fall 2019 Commonwealth Poll. When asked if they would favor raising the federal minimum wage to $15/hour, 59% of Virginians favored the increase, with 41% strongly favoring it, and 38% opposed. Family income seemed to play a role in how participants responded, with a majority of those making less than $50,000 a year (52%) strongly favoring raising the minimum wage, compared to 37% of those making $50,000 to $100,000 and 36% of those making $100,000 or more. Women were also more likely to be in favor of a federal minimum wage increase, with 51% strongly favoring the idea and another 18% somewhat favoring the idea, compared to 30% of men strongly favoring and 19% somewhat favoring. More than 6-in-10 minority participants (62%) said they strongly favored raising the minimum wage, compared to 29% of white participants.

Based on the polling results, it seems that the Virginia public is in favor of an increase in the minimum wage, especially middle-income families. Virginia seems to be aligned with a majority of the states in this regard; however, unlike many other states, Virginia has yet to make an initiative toward policy that reflects this. Again, the Virginian minimum wage has remained consistently aligned with federal minimum wage. In comparison, states like California, Maryland and New Jersey, with already higher minimum wage rates in 2019 than Virginia, have set a goal for a $15 minimum by 2025 at the latest. Washington, D.C., a neighbor to Virginia, has a current minimum wage of $13.25, with an increase to $15 planned in the next year.

As the idea of an increased minimum wage continues to be debated in the public arena, there has been an increase in studies aimed at better understanding the effects that a higher minimum wage may have on communities. For example, the Economic Policy Institute conducted a review in 2019 of the impacts that a $15 minimum wage may have. The study found that:

  • Gradually raising the federal minimum wage to $15 by 2024 would lift pay for nearly 26.6 % of the United States workforce (about 40 million employees).
  • People of color would be see larger pay increases, i.e. 38.1% of black workers and 33.4% of Hispanic workers would receive a pay increase.
  • Approximately two-thirds of the working poor would see a pay raise.
  • A $15 minimum wage would begin to reverse decades of growing pay inequality between the lowest-paid workers and the middle class. For example, failure to adequately increase the minimum wage accounts for 48% of the increase in inequality between women at the middle and bottom of the wage distribution since 1979.
  • A $15 minimum wage by 2024 would generate $118 billion in higher wages for workers, which would in turn benefit the communities in which they live and work. Because workers with lower wages tend to spend the majority their extra earnings, the increase would likely be injected back into the economy through their spending and would in turn help to stimulate the economy and promote business and job growth.

With the data indicating positive results for the economy, it seems that public opinion (and in turn, policies) are trending toward accepting a higher minimum wage for workers. Whether it be in one year or 10, this gradual inclination toward raising the minimum wage floor is also indicative of the government responding to the needs of each person, particularly that of the working class.

 Author: The Center for Public Policy aims to advance research and training that informs public policy and decision-making to improve our communities. We provide diverse public-facing services including leadership development and training, economic and policy impact analysis, survey insights and program evaluation to clients in state and local governments, nonprofit organizations, businesses and the public, across Virginia and beyond.
Twitter: @CPPatVCU

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