Elaine Luria Wants a 'Living Wage' for All, Except Her Own Staff

Rep. Elaine Luria (D., Va.) / Getty Images
March 17, 2022

As a candidate, Elaine Luria said, "Everyone deserves a living wage." But as a congresswoman, the Virginia Democrat paid multiple staffers less than the income required to reach a living wage in the Old Dominion.

During her first run for Congress, Luria called the $7.25 federal minimum wage "criminal" and said she thinks "that everyone deserves a living wage to raise their family in the community." At least two of her congressional staffers, however, earned less than the annual salary that marks a living wage in Virginia, payroll disclosures show.

According to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Living Wage Calculator, an adult with no children must earn a yearly salary of $34,552 to make a living wage in Virginia. Luria has paid at least two junior staffers less than that amount, according to legislative research service LegiStorm. As a staff assistant, Luria's current Virginia Beach constituent services representative, Jacob Olander, earned a yearly rate of just $33,588. Former Luria staff assistant Nolan Brown, meanwhile, made even less, earning a yearly rate of $31,769. Brown left Luria's office last year.

Luria communications director Jayce Genco said every staffer in the congresswoman's office now "makes a living wage." He did not return a request for comment on past staffers in Luria's office who did not earn a living wage.

Luria campaigned as a moderate, pro-business Democrat in 2018, when she narrowly defeated Republican incumbent Scott Taylor in a district that former president Donald Trump carried two years prior. While Luria argued against a $15 federal minimum wage on the campaign trail—instead opting for a regionalized approach in an attempt to protect small business owners—she went on to cosponsor legislation that would raise the minimum wage to $15 nationwide.

That flip-flop came only after Luria sold her small business, which she often invoked on the campaign trail to prove that she understood the economic risk of a one-size-fits-all $15 minimum wage. Such a policy, Luria said during a 2018 candidate forum, would "cause risk to my business and other businesses."

Despite her newfound willingness to impose a minimum wage hike on America's small businesses, Luria ranks last among Virginia's congressional delegation when it comes to median staffer salary, according to LegiStorm. In a statement provided to the Washington Free Beacon, Genco touted the fact that Luria "has consistently voted to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour."

Since she joined Congress in 2019, Luria has emerged as a top target for Republicans as the GOP looks to regain control of the House. Luria's status as a vulnerable member, however, has only intensified since Virginia's 2021 gubernatorial elections. Just one year after President Joe Biden won Luria's Second Congressional District by 2 points in 2020, Virginia governor Glenn Youngkin (R.) carried it by 12 points last November, a whopping 14-point swing.

That development has Republicans convinced they can unseat Luria in 2022, two years after she defeated Taylor by roughly 6 points. Taylor is considering another run against Luria, and Navy veterans Jen Kiggans and Jarome Bell have already declared their candidacies. Kiggans also serves as a state senator and geriatric nurse practitioner.

This is not the first time Luria's actions as a congresswoman have contradicted her rhetoric as a candidate. Luria slammed school choice policies during her 2018 campaign but failed to report that she served as president of a private high school. The Democrat also sends her daughter to a private school in Norfolk that can cost more than $12,000 a year.