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Poverty dropped slightly in Virginia, but wage gap is widening among some demographics: Report

The Virginia Interfaith Center released its latest findings in its report of what it's like working in the State of Virginia.

NORFOLK, Va. — Researchers with the Virginia Interfaith Center say they are seeing the impacts of the pandemic on the average worker in their latest report.

"We have too many workers and families who are struggling to get by," said Kim Bobo, executive director of the Virginia Interfaith Center. "The 'American Dream' is no longer working for so many workers with low wages."

Lead researcher Mel Borja said her team saw a few positive trends, such as a slight dip in the overall poverty level.

"It's only gone down by about a half-percent. So while it has gone down, it hasn't gone down by much," said Borja.

However, she said the wage gap among certain demographics are widening, leaving Hispanic workers making about 68-cents to every dollar a non-Hispanic white worker makes.

Borja said her studies found pay improved slightly for Black men, but women of color are seeing some of the biggest gaps in pay.

"For Black workers in Virginia, it's improved, but it's only improved by two cents since 1979," said Borja. "Black women in Virginia are just paid 59-cents for every dollar paid to a white man and Latina women are paid just 52-cents for every dollar paid to a white man. That is probably the most shocking part of the report, for sure."

In the report, Bobo said the data shows the need for change in how workers are treated in Virginia. 

"Especially given the surplus in money, this is an incredible opportunity for Virginia to invest in these workers," said Bobo.

Bobo said her team recommended new policies, which could help improve the everyday life for workers, using that surplus.

"We can invest in standards around paid sick days, investments in child care, allow workers to organize without fear of harassment...there's a lot of things we can do in Virginia and really now is the time," said Bobo.

Researchers say they recorded the child poverty rates as consistently higher than the overall poverty rates since 2008. The report also says while Virginia overall is often a top 10 state when it comes to median household income, available data shows that 9.9% of people overall and 13.4% of children in Virginia were in poverty in 2019.

According to the report, after adjusting for inflation, the median wage for lower-paid Virginians — the 40% of workers paid the lowest wages — also went down from $14.60 to $14.46 between 2020 and 2021, reversing the upward trend of the last five years  

Bobo and Borja both said it will take time and more research to see how the pandemic and inflation will impact these trends over the next few years.

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