Photo by Alexander Grey on Unsplash
Photo by Alexander Grey on Unsplash

For Black workers, the wage gap lessened by a mere two pennies over the past four decades.

Do you feel like you make an equitable wage at your job? According to Rev. Anthony Fludd, the assistant pastor at St. Johns Church of God in Christ in Newport News, a fair wage should provide enough for a worker and their household.

Fludd joined The Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis (TCI) and the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy, cohosts of a virtual press conference centered around working Virginians and their salaries.

“There’s a difference between moral and immoral. Anything moral is a work of God. And as the Creator of us all, He’s concerned about our economic wellbeing, and that’s a work of grace. For where there is injustices, sin prevailing, grace much more abounds,” Fludd said. “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 — matter of fact, for us all. So let us recognize the many people whose work is a blessing to society — and yet, they’re struggling to care for their own family.”

As Fludd’s comments show, a wage gap persists in Virginia. But to what extent? TCI and the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy recently uncovered data that may shock — and disturb — you.

Wage Gap

“In Virginia, most economically poor families have one or more people who are working, but they don’t earn enough or have enough supports to lift them out of poverty,” said Kim Bobo, executive director of Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy. “Consequently for those of us who care about poverty, care about our neighbors, we must care about wages, benefits, and working conditions for Virginia’s workers.”

The commonwealth’s wage gap exists in multiple groups. However, the hardest hit teetered the lines of both racism and sexism.

The research revealed:

  • Women of color were hit the hardest by wage inequality in Virginia, with Black women being paid 59 cents for every dollar paid to white men and Latina women being paid 52 cents
  • The wage gap between Hispanic and non-Hispanic white workers widened from 72 cents for every dollar in 2001 to 68 cents for every dollar in 2021
  • Black workers in Virginia were paid 72 cents for every dollar a white worker was paid in 1979, and 74 cents for every dollar a white worker made in 2021

“The report is not just a list of important facts and figures related to the workers in Virginia, but it’s a call to action and it’s an invitation to look deeply at what the data is telling us,” Ashley Kenneth, TCI’s president and CEO, said at the press conference. “What’s clear is that Virginia is a top 10 state when it comes to median household income, yet many workers, particularly workers of color, are still facing significant barriers to economic stability. We have and should take the opportunity to ensure that Virginia not only remains a top state for business, but becomes a top state for the workers that make business possible.”

Fludd further noted that being paid fairly for the service anyone provides “is a hearing worth giving voice to.”

“You should not have to go to work every day thinking, ‘How am I going to make enough money to put food on my table to feed my children and my family?’ Or, ‘How am I going to pay for my family’s medical and healthcare needs?’” Fludd said. “Especially in these inflationary times, who suffers the more? It’s those who are economically disadvantaged. This is not only depressing, it’s oppressing.” 

Recent Solutions

While a wage gap still persists, the State of Working Virginia report noted that there have been strides over the past five years both nationally and statewide.

Recent solutions:

  • Raise in minimum wage
  • Medicaid expansion helped workers employed in low-wage jobs without health care benefits access affordable and comprehensive care
  • Strengthened wage theft protections 
  • Virginia job training opportunities
  • Virginia raised wages for state employees
  • Virginia’s Earned Income Tax Credit improved in 2022, providing an income boost to families with low incomes at tax time

“These are important steps forward for workers and their families in Virginia. In the coming years, advocates who are concerned about poverty and workers in low wage jobs will seek to protect these important strives forward,” Bobo said. “However, as the report clearly shows, what we’ve done thus far is not enough. The economy is growing, businesses are prospering, and yet many workers are not sharing in that prosperity. More must be done for all workers in low wage jobs, and we must grapple with ways to address the income gaps for African American and Latinx workers.”

To keep the momentum going, the pastor encouraged action. 

“We must act. We must compel our legislators to act,” Fludd said. “Remember this: a just wage enables a decent life for a worker and their household. It enables future asset building. It provides basic social security for workers and their household. Its structures should be nondiscriminatory. Just wages is not excess — it only exhibits proportionally within a wider economic community. Wage reflects participation by workers. Wage considers performance, qualification, and the type of work, and it also supports trust in our society.”