CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- As more and more states vote to increase the minimum wage, some say the time is right for West Virginia to do so, as well.
"Several other states have independently raised their minimum wage, not waiting for federal action anymore and taking the lead," said Linda Frame, communications manager for the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy. "That appears to be what we are heading for in West Virginia, or we hope."
Bills in both the West Virginia State Senate and the House of Delegates would raise the state's minimum wage from $7.25 to $8.25 an hour in two steps. Last week the House Bill 4283 passed its first hurdle in the labor committee. Yesterday, the Senate version passed through the labor committee.
The bills' next stop will be the respective finance committees of the Senate and House.
"It's not teenagers earning the minimum wage -- it's people who are raising families, people who are living in poverty, people who really work really hard to try and make ends meet but are stuck with a wage that is really the lowest it's been since 1968 [when adjusted for inflation]," Frame said.
Nineteen other states have passed laws raising the minimum wage above the federal level of $7.25 per hour.
In 2009, the federal minimum wage was raised from $5.15 to $7.25, said Sean O'Leary, a policy analyst with the center.
"For most of our state's history, our minimum wage has been right at the federal level," O'Leary added.
O'Leary said there are several misconceptions often offered as rebuttals to raising the minimum wage -- jobs will be lost, consumers will bear the burden of increased prices and minimum wage workers are just teenagers.
Looking specifically at West Virginia's minimum wage workers, O'Leary said the average age of a worker that would receive a raise with a minimum wage increase is 35. Sixty-seven percent of minimum wage workers in West Virginia are older than 25.
O'Leary compared employment growth between states with minimum wages higher than the federal level to those with minimum wages mirroring the federal $7.25 per hour.
"Those states [with federal minimum wage] are not growing any faster and hiring new employees," O'Leary said. "It's all basically the same. They are growing in an almost identical trend."
Anna Reed, 28, has been working in the restaurant industry for about 10 years. Reed earns $2.13 an hour plus whatever tips she makes.
She's raising three children with her boyfriend. Reed also has a bachelor degree in psychology from West Virginia State University.
"Being a server, your wages and income always fluctuate. You go through periods of struggle and you go through periods of being financially stable," Reed said. "Personally, when I'm making good money, I try and pay off everything I can so I'm not without when times are slow."
Reed has faced utilities being shut off and rent eviction. She tires to live frugally while looking for work to use her degree.
"We are temporarily on assistance trying to get back on our feet," Reed said. "Food stamps and Medicaid helps, but it's still not enough sometimes."
Her boyfriend has an Information and Technology degree and is also looking for work. They have been on assistance for about six months. Both are looking for jobs in which they can use their degrees.