How raising the federal minimum wage could impact West Virginia

Published: Jan. 27, 2021 at 5:51 PM EST
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MORGANTOWN, W.Va (WDTV) - Within the first week of taking office, President Biden called for a $15 federal minimum wage. This effort has stirred in left-leaning circles over the past decade, gaining support as more families are continuing to struggle.

“Nobody in America should work 40 hours a week making below the poverty line. $15 gets people above the poverty line,” said Pres. Biden.

In 2009 the minimum wage rose to $7.25, but most states have set their own bar for the pay rate. West Virginia’s minimum wage sits at $8.75. If passed the federal $15 rate is passed, everyone, ranging from those making minimum wage up to those making $14.99 per hour will be affected.

“Moving to $15 is a huge jump. We have never actually experimented with that big of a jump in the minimum wage,” said Bryan McCannon, an associate professor of economics at West Virginia University.

He says if the rate increases we will see major negative effects; for essential items like gasoline, we are likely to see rates increase (though McCannon did not say how much these costs would increase). On the other hand, small businesses would likely need to cut staffing to make up for the additional costs.

But in the 11 years since the last federal pay raise, the price of living has increased by 20%, according to reporting by CBS News. In major cities, residents reportedly require a $20 per hour job to afford a one bedroom apartment. Advocates say the rise in the minimum wage is long overdue.

But in West Virginia, where the cost of living is drastically lower than the surrounding metro areas, a major change in the minimum wage could leave small business owners scrambling.

“Here in West Virginia or Pennsylvania the price of living is so low,” McCannon said. “Raising the bottom of the wage profile that much will have substantial impacts on the local economy. But if you are in New York or Philadelphia where the cost of living is so high - 15 dollars an hour will not be much of a change.”

The efforts to raise the federal minimum wage have a long road ahead before ratification. A formal bill has yet to be introduced on Capitol Hill during the Biden administration. After that bill is introduced, one of the most its biggest obstacles will be Senator Joe Manchin. The Senator has yet to publicly side on the issue of a $15 minimum wage, but did support the 2016 proposal to increase the rate to $10.10.

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