Record shows 120,700 Virginians paid at or below minimum wage
The Bureau of Labor Statistics released a report Friday that found 7.1 percent of the 1.7 million Virginia workers were paid hourly wages at or below the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour in 2011, more than double pre-recession levels.
From 2001 to 2007 the number of workers in the commonwealth of Virginia earning wages either at or below the federal minimum wage was below 3.5 percent of all hourly paid workers in Virginia.
But increases of the federal minimum wage in 2007 changed that.
“The increases in the federal minimum wage have probably had the greatest impact on the number of workers earning at or below the minimum wage,” Bureau regional economist Kara L. Markley said in an email. “This is most apparent by looking at the number earning exactly the minimum wage, which jumps in those years immediately following the recent increases in the Federal minimum wage.”
The report indicated 57,000 workers in 2011 were paid exactly the minimum wage, and 64,000 earned less.
The bureau did not factor gratuity tips into its findings data. The types of jobs that tend to earn hourly wages below the minimum, such as bartending and waitering, often use gratuity profits to supplement income, Markley said.
Fifty-five percent of the 121,000 workers earning minimum wage or less in 2011 were women, and 45 percent were male.
The percentage of hourly-paid workers earning the minimum wage or less was 7.9 percent in 2010. Markley said the decrease from 2010 to 2011 could be attributed to the improved economy.
The commonwealth is tied for seventh best in the nation for its proportion of hourly-paid workers earning at or below the federal minimum wage.
To some advocates, such as Emily Filler, Living Wage campaigner and Arts & Sciences graduate student, that federal minimum wage is too low.
“We’re always happy to hear that more people are being paid better,” Filler said. “But it’s important to remember that the federal minimum wage is a very low number — and much less than the living wage, which is what it takes for a family to get by at all.”
The Living Wage Campaign has calculated the living wage for the Charlottesville area to be about $13 per hour not including benefits.