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Fewer W.Va. workers making minimum wage or less

By John Raby

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The proportion of West Virginia workers paid an hourly wage at or below the federal minimum standard declined in 2011, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics released Wednesday.

There were 462,000 workers being paid hourly rates in West Virginia last year. The bureau said 20,000 of them earned the current minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, while 14,000 earned less than that.

The portion of state workers earning at or below minimum wage fell from 9.3 percent to 7.4 percent. Still, that was above the national average and was the fourth-highest proportion among the states. Georgia had the highest rate at 9.6 percent, followed by Mississippi, 8.5; and Texas, 8.0.

The bureau said 68 percent, or 23,000, of the hourly workers making minimum wage or less in West Virginia were female. That was down from 70 percent, or 28,000 females, in 2010.

Overall, hourly employees in West Virginia earned an average of $12.78 per hour last year, up from $12.43 in 2010.

The average hourly rate last year for men in West Virginia was $14.54, down 29 cents from 2011. For women, the 2011 rate of $10.92 was up 36 cents from 2010.

Nationally, the average hourly wage was $12.71 in 2011. Men earned an average of $13.80 per hour, while women earned $11.98.

The portion of West Virginia workers being paid at or below the federal minimum wage peaked at 40,000 in 2010 after hitting a low of 14,000 in 2006. The bureau first made such data available in 2000. The percentage of state workers earning minimum wage exceeded those making below the minimum for the second straight year.

The bureau noted that West Virginia workers earning wages below the federal minimum does not necessarily indicate violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act because of exemptions to the minimum wage provisions of the law.

The state's minimum wage has been set at $7.25 an hour since July 2008.  It was raised to $6.55 per hour in July 2007, $5.85 per hour in July 2006, and $5.15 per hour in September 1998.

The federal minimum wage was last raised in 2009, also to $7.25. The proportion of U.S. hourly workers earning that or less was 5.2 percent.

While the news was encouraging for West Virginia's economy, both candidates running for governor this year say more must be done.

Chris Stadelman, spokesman for Democratic Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, said the governor is committed to creating more jobs in the state.

Stadelman said Tomblin's responsible fiscal policies have helped the state implement the kind of tax cuts and business incentives that attracted Gestamp to the South Charleston stamping plant.

"Those are the kind of good-paying jobs with benefits that help our working families, and they're the kind of jobs Bill Maloney's out-of-touch economic development ideas would keep from coming to West Virginia," Stadelman said.

In a statement, Republican Bill Maloney said Tomblin has still failed to create enough jobs to reverse the state's low income rankings.

"Because of the career politicians like Earl Ray Tomblin, we are 49th in per capita income," Maloney said. "And we are 49th in median household income, while Earl Ray Tomblin and his household rakes in more than $300,000 this year from the taxpayer. 

"Earl Ray doesn't understand how to grow an economy because he's never been in the private sector," Maloney said. "As someone who has created real West Virginia jobs, I am ready to lead our state toward a brighter future with more, better-paying jobs." Writer Jared Hunt contributed to this report.


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