Ned Oliver/ Virginia Mercury
Lawmakers narrowly backed a bill to lower the minimum wage for employees under the age of 18 Tuesday, with House Majority Leader Terry Kilgore, R-Scott, joining with two Democrats to oppose it.
The House Commerce and Energy subcommittee voted 4-3 to recommend approval of a bill from Del. Danny Marshall, R-Danville, that would require employers to pay employees younger than 18 no less than the greater of $9 per hour or the federal minimum wage, which is currently $7.25 per hour.
The minimum wage in Virginia has risen from $7.25 an hour to the current $12 an hour over the past three years following Democrat-backed legislation signed into law in 2020. That law included provisions further increasing the minimum wage to $13.50 an hour in 2025 and $15 an hour in 2026, but those increases will require additional approval from the General Assembly to go into effect.
The current law lists 16 categories of workers not subject to the state increases, including those under the age of 16 and those younger than 18 who are enrolled in school full-time while working less than 20 hours per week.
Workers aged 16 and 17 who don’t fall under any of the exemptions must be paid at least the state minimum of $12 an hour. Marshall’s legislation would reduce that wage floor to $9 an hour.
Marshall told the panel the push for lower wages for minors was brought to him by small business owners in his area over concerns they will be unable to afford to pay workers in the event the state’s minimum wage increases up to $15 an hour in 2026.
Small businesses “cannot afford to pay $15 for someone who comes into a business less than 18 with a small skillset,” Marshall said. “They have to be trained that 8 o’clock means 8 o’clock.”
Kilgore, as well as Del. Cliff Hayes, D-Chesapeake, and House Minority Leader Don Scott, D-Portsmouth, voted against the bill.
Over 10 individuals and organizations spoke in opposition to the bill, saying it promotes age discrimination and doesn’t take into account the financial needs of employed teenagers.
Abby Garber, a 17-year old with the student group Coalition for Virginia’s Future, told the subcommittee she’s been working since she was 14 to save money for college, and many of her friends are forced to work long hours after school to support their families.
The bill “would force many of my friends to take up multiple jobs to make ends meet and might even force them to leave school to survive,” Garber said. “This bill would be detrimental to our commonwealth’s youth.”
Mel Borja, a policy analyst for the progressive think tank Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis, said the legislation would also have a disproportionate impact on Black and other workers of color, youth in rural communities and first- and second-generation immigrant children.
“This bill burns a hole in the wallets of teenage workers in a time of high inflation that has made it harder to make ends meet,” Borja said.
While no one spoke in support of the bill Tuesday, Marshall said if minors continue to be paid the state’s minimum wage as it inches up to $15 an hour, “we’re going to have an unintended consequence that is actually going to have a reverse effect that we’ll have less people that will be hired.”
“If people come to the job at less than 18 and they have certain skills,” Marshall said, “then they will be able to get paid a higher wage.”
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