After much turmoil and deliberation, Congress recently raised the federal mini-mum wage to $5.85 per hour, which equates to an annual salary of about $11,700, barely above the federal poverty guideline of $10,210 for a single person. In Northern Virginia, where the average monthly rent for an efficiency apartment is nearly $900, a person earning the minimum wage cannot afford basic housing, much less food and other necessities.
Fairfax County has one of the highest median incomes in the nation, thanks to our booming economy, outstanding public school system, and desirable quality of life over-all. But even the median income is out of reach for many hard working full-time public employees who earn too little to provide housing, food, health care, transportation, and child care for themselves and their families. Providing a “living wage” for public employees enables them to live in the jurisdiction they serve, reduces commuting times, and improves attitudes and work output, too.
At Monday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, on a unanimous vote, the Board established a policy that all county employees will be paid a living wage at the current prevailing rate of either Arlington County or the City of Alexandria, two local jurisdictions that have living wage policies already in effect. Alexandria’s rate is $11.80 per hour; Arlington is at $12.66. The Board directed County Executive Anthony H. Griffin to prepare recommendations for implementation at the September 10 Board meeting. Approximately 50 county employees will be affected by the change. Several hundred more would be affected as advocates work to increase the rate potentially to $15.74 per hour. At the same time, the Board encouraged all county contractors and vendors, and all employers located within Fairfax County to similarly adopt a living wage policy for their employees.
Wages and the cost of housing in Fairfax County were part of the focus on Saturday at the dedication of the Katherine K. Hanley Family Shelter on Lee Highway in Fairfax. Mostly though, it was a celebration of a caring community and the efforts of Fairfax County government, in partnership with non-profits and volunteers, to end homelessness in the county in10 years. The shelter can accommodate about 20 families, often mothers with school-age children, in emergency housing, with case management, training, and other social services also available. The shelter is named for former Board of Supervisors Chairman Kate Hanley, now Secretary of the Commonwealth of Virginia. Shelter House, Inc., a non-profit organization that operates a family shelter in Seven Corners, will manage day-to-day operations of the new Hanley Shelter. The Junior League of Fairfax County provided equipment for the children’s playroom, including a puppet theatre, and a local Girl Scout troop conducted a book drive for the shelter’s library. The shelter will receive its first families in late August.