Romiah skipped up to the podium with her mother, Jacqueline Short. The little girl was having a hard time standing still, but she had also been sitting quietly for the past few hours in the crowded committee room, waiting for her mother’s turn to speak.
Short brought her daughter with her to the Virginia Senate committee hearing on minimum wage legislation Tuesday because she could not afford childcare. She said living off her current wage makes it hard for her to take care of her family of five.
“I am making around the same amount of money I was making when I was a teenager. It’s ridiculous and immoral,” said Short. “I challenge each and every one of you to go one week working a job where you have to live off of this type of money.”
Three minimum wage bills died yesterday in the committee of Commerce and Labor. Senate Bill 58, would raise the minimum to $10.10 by 2020, Senate Bill 240 would increase it to $11.25 by 2021 and Senate Bill 251 would raise the minimum to $15 by 2020. The minimum wage in Virginia has not raised since the federal minimum increased to $7.25 in 2009.
“My goal is to open my own business,” said LaVaughn Williams, a constituent who came to speak in favor of the bills. “But how can you have those goals and those dreams if you are stagnated before you even get started?”
Among the members of the opposition who spoke were various business associations such as the National Federation of Independent Business, the Virginia Retail Federation and the Virginia Farm Bureau.
Democratic Senators on the committee asked their Republican counterparts to consider the bill. Sen. Lionell Spruill said nobody could afford a place to live making the current minimum wage, much less be able to pay an electric or gas bill.
Sen. William “Bill” Stanley, who voted against the bill, claimed he understood the struggle of making a minimum wage. Stanley, 50, said when he was a teenager he started on minimum wage but through hard work was able to work his way up and pay for law school.
“Look at the time, he was talking about 1990,” said Williams.
Williams said the minimum wage has not kept up with inflation, making it harder to afford the same things which were affordable 20 years ago living off a minimum wage.
Adjusted for inflation, the federal minimum wage peaked in 1968, which in 2016 dollars was about $8.68, according to a Pew Research Center study. Since the federal minimum was raised in 2009, to the current $7.25 an hour, it has lost about 9.6 percent of its purchasing power because of inflation.
Getting a sense the bill was not going to make it, Sen. Rosalyn Dance, who introduced one of the bills, asked the committee to give the bill’s sponsors an opportunity to change the bills to make them more appealing to the opposition. The committee chair, Sen. Frank Wagner, rejected the idea, explaining that there was too much legislation on the agenda to warrant spending any extra time on the issue.
Sen. Richard Saslaw, Spruill and Dance were the only members of the committee who voted in favor of the bill.