Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

The law that approved gradually increasing the minimum hourly rate Virginia workers can earn must be re-enacted by the General Assembly. In short: Who you elect matters.

Good news, Virginia: The minimum hourly wage is now $11 as of Jan. 1. In fact, since last May, Virginians working for minimum wage have seen a $1.50 increase per hour. Over the next few years, the rate will continue to increase until it hits at least $15 in 2026. 

That increase will be transformative for women, who make up nearly two-thirds of the workforce in low-paid jobs. Research shows that raising the minimum wage would have a huge impact on mothers, particularly those who are primary or sole breadwinners for their families.

The Path to a $15 Minimum Wage

In April 2020, Democrats controlled the Virginia House, Senate, and governor’s office, and as a result were able to pass a law that would significantly—though gradually—increase the minimum wage over the next few years. 

Here’s an overall timeline of how the minimum wage will increase for Virginia workers over the next several years, as set forth by the law:

April 2020: $9 <= Bill becomes law.

May 2021: $9.50

January 2022: $11 <= You are here.

January 2023: $12

January 2025: $13.50 <= Not guaranteed.

January 2026: $15

January 2027: $15+

Why Are the Rates in 2025 and Beyond Not Guaranteed? 

These changes will only go into effect if the law is “reenacted by a regular or special session of the General Assembly prior to July 1, 2024.” 

What Does That Mean for Me?

It means who you elect in future elections for the House of Delegates and the Senate will decide whether or not Virginia’s minimum wage will continue to rise. 

The law also tasks several state agencies with evaluating the feasibility of having a minimum wage. Specifically, they are focused on employee benefits, income inequality, and farm workers. By studying the effects, the wage set could help create a more equitable commonwealth.

According to the Economic Policy Institute, phasing in a federal $15 minimum wage by 2025 would raise the earnings of 32 million workers—that is, more than 20% of the national workforce. In fact, not only would it help minimum wage workers, but those just above that wage level would benefit from adjusted pay scales. 

How Does Increasing the Minimum Wage Impact Virginia’s Economy?

State officials are taking a look at how a minimum wage impacts the economies of other states to figure this out. In Pennsylvania, for example, the minimum wage hasn’t changed since 2009. Advocates there—including the governor—say raising the rate to at least $12 an hour could lead to $100 million in tax revenue for Pennsylvania. Even so, Republicans still refused to advance the bill.

In Virginia, however, Republican Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin told 7News last summer a $15 minimum wage would “crush” the economy, claiming, “we are going to lose jobs.” 

Here’s Where You Come In

Delegates across the commonwealth, like Democrats Jeion Ward, Lamont Bagby, and Elizabeth Guzman, led the charge to ensure Virginia’s workers receive the pay they deserve during the 2020 legislative session. If supporters of raising the minimum wage aren’t elected to office in 2022 and beyond, then the law may not be reenacted. 

The law does include that if the federal minimum wage eclipses the wage rates set forth by this law, the greater of the two is implemented. For example, if The Raise the Wage Act of 2021, a bill introduced by Sen. Bobby Scott (D-VA), became law, workers across the commonwealth—and the country—would see a long overdue raise. Research suggests raising the minimum wage to $15 in 2025 would lift up over 3.5 million US residents out of poverty, including an estimated 1.3 million children.