The wage gap between the highest and lowest earners in Virginia is the second highest in the country and it has widened significantly since the start of the recession in 2007.

Not far behind are Washington, D.C., the fourth highest, and Maryland, the sixth.

A study by the Commonwealth Institute in Richmond released Tuesday shows the lowest 30 percent of earners suffered a decrease in wages when adjusted for inflation between 2007 and 2010, while the top 10 percent of workers saw their wages go up more than 10 percent.

The result is that the top 10 percent of earners in Virginia make 5.72 times more in wages than the bottom 10 percent -- a gap that is second only to New Jersey. The ratio in D.C. was 5.35-to-1 and in Maryland 5.21-to-1.

"The challenge for us is what we do about that here in Virginia because these imbalances demonstrate major setbacks for our economy," said Kevin Cassidy, president of the Commonwealth Institute, a nonprofit research group that focuses on low- and moderate-income persons. "The impact on the consumer economy is a real one."

Virginia's median income in 2010 was $60,674, 21 percent higher than the national average and ninth highest in the country. As a whole, the state also weathered the recession better than most and the median wage actually increased 2 percent from 2009 to 2010.

But that figure was pulled up by higher-level wage earners who saw their pay increase from 2007 to 2010 at a rate much greater than the national average. Even median income workers' wages went up about 5 percent, compared with less than 1 percent gains across the country. Meanwhile, the bottom 30 percent saw losses well beyond the national average.

"It depends on what sector of the economy you're in and where you are in the wage distribution whether you would agree Virginia has fared the recession well," Cassidy said.

Gov. Bob McDonnell's office had not studied the report in detail, but spokesman Jeff Caldwell said that "there is no more important issue to this administration than to continue working tirelessly to reduce unemployment and bring additional good-paying jobs to the commonwealth."