Key Findings

The living wage for a single adult is $18.57 per hour. This reflects what is needed to meet basic needs and maintain some ability to deal with emergencies and plan ahead. The living wage for a single adult with two children is $35.07 per hour.

For workers saddled with debt, the wage to pay off that debt would be even greater than the calculated living wage. Students in Virginia graduate with $25,017 in student loans,85 and the average credit card holder in the state has an outstanding debt of $5,329.86 Because the state has not expanded Medicaid, more than 200,000 lower-income workers remain uninsured.87 Additionally, 20 percent of mortgages in the state are underwater.88

The minimum wage in Virginia does not allow working families to make ends meet. The state’s 2013 minimum wage provided just over one-third of a living wage for a single adult and only one-fifth of the living wage for a single adult with two children.

*per working adult


Denise Smith – Rocky Gap, VA

‘Even though I was working for the county and had insurance, I had outrageous co-payments for medical tests. I refinanced my house to pay off the $7,000 in medical debt.’

Personal Testimony: Denise Smith

I’m a 30-year resident of Rocky Gap, Va., located in Bland County, a rural county of about 8,000 people. I live on a two-acre property in a house built over 150 years ago. My daughter, her husband, and their four children also live on the property in a trailer.

I graduated from Emory and Henry College with a bachelor’s in history while working two jobs and raising two children. I had scholarships and funding to cover most of the costs, but I still needed to take out loans. I graduated with a little over $20,000 in debt, but, with interest, that grew to almost $40,000.
Luckily this year, my loans were forgiven for being on disability. But, if my health improves and I return to work within the next five years, my student loan debt will become active again. Unless I make a living wage, I still won’t be able to afford to pay it off. Plus, getting that debt forgiven counts as income, so I still owe taxes on it.

Sicknesses in my family really put us over the edge financially. I was diagnosed with an immune system disease and heart problems. Even though I was working for the county and had state insurance, I had outrageous co-payments for medical tests. I refinanced my house to pay off the $7,000 in medical debt.
Then, my son was diagnosed with an aggressive form of arthritis, so now he’s unemployed. We have to pay $120 a week for his medicine. Because Virginia failed to expand Medicaid, we’re hurting even more trying to cover his medical health costs.

It’s really hard to make ends meet even when living as cheaply as we can. We rely on food pantries, do without luxuries, and are working as hard as we can to pay off our debts. My mortgage is $384 a month and my vehicle payment is $240 a month. We are trying to pay off a $4,000 credit card debt created by my son’s medical situation.

I receive about $700 in disability per month. My daughter and her husband earn about $50,000 per year with their working salaries combined. With costs still rising and our incomes stagnant, there’s not enough to cover basic expenses, let alone pay off our debt.

I am worried about my grandchildren because they are going to have even less opportunity than I had. I could live in a tent, my life is all I need, but I want a better future for my grandchildren.


Virginia State Report

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National Report

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