Tourism revenue up while 18 percent of families live in poverty

Charlottesville Works Initiative’s Ridge Schulyer says there’s nothing wrong with starter jobs, but it’s tough to support a family on minimum wage. 
Photo Elli Williams Charlottesville Works Initiative’s Ridge Schulyer says there’s nothing wrong with starter jobs, but it’s tough to support a family on minimum wage. Photo Elli Williams

Two recent reports demonstrate the highs and lows of area economics. Tourism in Albemarle and Charlottesville brought in more than $553 million in 2014, while 18 percent of families in this area don’t make enough money to pay for basic needs.

The Charlottesville Albemarle Convention & Visitors Bureau reported a $29 million increase in revenues tourism brought to the area last year. “Increases across the board in Charlottesville and Albemarle County were quite impressive,” said Kurt Burkhart, the bureau’s executive director. Increased visitor spending upped tourism-related employment 3.5 percent, according to the bureau’s press release.

The news is not so bright for area poor families in Charlottesville and Albemarle. The Orange Dot Project Report, an initiative of the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce, released September 21, says that 5,661 families in the city and county—18 percent—do not earn enough to pay for housing, food, clothing, energy, transportation and child care, which require an income of between $35,000 and $40,000 a year, according to the report.

“Some jobs in hospitality pay a decent wage and people can earn a decent living,” says Ridge Schuyler, who works with the Chamber’s Charlottesville Works Initiative. “Others don’t.” A single mom working full time for minimum wage makes $14,400 a year, says Schuyler. “It’s very difficult for a parent to raise a family on a starter job,” he says.

The Chamber launched Works Initiative a year ago to use neighborhood-based peers to identify people ready for jobs at the next level and to provide training in careers such as nursing, bookkeeping and firefighting. The initiative has enrolled 39 people.

In other job news, Chick-fil-A announced it will hire 80 people for its new store on Pantops. The company declined to say what the pay range will be, but spokesperson Callie Bowers says the pay is generous and more competitive than other similar businesses. Also, there’s no working on Sundays.

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