‘Life’s just too expensive not for it to go up’: Local reaction to Virginia’s minimum wage increase bill

‘You just can’t make it on $7 an hour...You really can’t make it on $10 an hour’

ROANOKE COUNTY, Va. – A local business owner is reacting to a bill to raise the minimum wage in Virginia. The wage hike is both applauded and criticized, depending on who you talk to.

Brenda Poole has owned her salon, Just 4 Looks Hair Studio, in Roanoke County for more than 15 years. While she works for herself, she’s watched her kids struggle to make ends meet.

“You just can’t make it on $7 an hour," Poole said. "You really can’t make it on $10 an hour.”

A proposed bill, that passed in the Virginia House of Delegates on Tuesday, would raise the $7.25 hourly minimum wage in Virginia to $10 in July and gradually to $15 by 2025. The move is backed by Democratic delegates like Sam Rasoul.

“Clearly, the economy is doing well. We need to make sure that fundamentally, someone who’s working full-time should not be living in poverty," Rasoul said.

Though critics say it could be devastating for small businesses. Higher wages mean businesses might have to cut costs in other places.

“I think a higher minimum wage is good, but I don’t know what that number should be. Arbitrarily, $15 seems kind of high for Roanoke," said Greg Gereaux, who lives in Roanoke County. “It may amount to people losing jobs.”

Gereaux used to work for the railroad and hotel industry before he retired. He hired workers at minimum wage and said if employers have to pay more, there’s no wiggle room for raises, bonuses or incentives for employees to work harder.

“I like to use pay as an incentive to get more work or different amount of work or different type of work from people,” said Gereaux.

Poole said she has considered expanding her business before and admits it might be tough to afford to pay employees $15 an hour, but at this rate, the living wage in Virginia isn’t cutting it.

“Life’s just too expensive not for it to go up," said Poole.

The Virginia Senate also passed a similar bill to raise the minimum wage, but the amount would vary depending on each region’s median income.

The chambers will have to agree by the end of the session in March before a new minimum wage law would head to the governor’s desk for approval.

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