The Living Wage Rate:
The Living Wage rate for Buncombe County in 2021 is $17.30/hr or $15.80/hr with employer provided health insurance.
The Buncombe County Living Wage Rate for 2020 was $15.50/hour without qualifying employer provided health insurance, or $14.00/hour with employer provided health insurance.
For Rural WNC counties, the Living Wage Rate is $13.00/hour effective February 15th, 2021.
We recalculate the Buncombe living wage rate every year and adjust according to the Universal Living Wage formula. This formula is based on Fair Market Rent as determined by HUD and adjusted using a four year average of the FMR to mitigate any volatile changes up or down. We adjust the wage rate if there is a 3% or greater change from the previous year. To download the full calculation, click here.
We adjust our wage rate based on the Universal Living Wage Formula which is directly related to the cost of housing. Our area has seen a significant rise in the cost of housing over the last several years. As costs rise for employees, the living wage must increase to keep pace with inflation and the real costs of living. Below describes a little bit about how living wages can be calculated, how we calculated ours, and how we arrived at our wage rate.
The WNC rural living wage rate is calculated at 210% of the federal poverty guidelines, rounded to the nearest nickel, due to the unreliability of accurate FMR data in rural counties.
There are three popular ways to calculate a living wage:
Percentage of the Federal Poverty Line
Many living wage ordinances in cities around the country base their wage rate off a percentage of the federal poverty line. The Federal Poverty Guidelines do not take into account regional differences in costs of living and it can be difficult to determine which percentage to use as a standard. Just Economics uses this method to determine the Living Wage Rate for rural counties in WNC.
Universal Living Wage Formula
This is the formula that Just Economics uses for Buncombe County. It is based on the idea that a person who works full-time (40 hours per week) should be able to afford a one bedroom apartment and their other expenses. According to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), no more than 30% of a person’s gross income should be spent on housing. The Universal Living Wage Formula is based on local cost of housing according to HUD’s Fair Market Rents (FMR). We chose this formula because it is straightforward, easy to calculate, and reflects local needs.
Basic Needs Assessment
Several organizations use the costs of basic needs in an area to determine a living wage. For example, the NC Justice Center calculates its Living Income Standards by estimating the local cost of seven main household expenses (food, housing, healthcare, transportation, childcare, taxes, and miscellaneous) for different family sizes. The results from this type of formula can vary drastically as demonstrated by the differences between the NC Justice Center’s Living Income Standards and the MIT Living Wage Calculator for counties in North Carolina. Just Economics elected not to use this method because we do not have the capacity to use sound but complicated methodology to determine these expenses annually and do not want to rely on a third party to determine our living wage.
How Do We Adjust Our Wage Rate?
Just Economics reassesses our living wage rate every year and is very intentional about keeping our wage rate tied to the cost of housing (based on the federally calculated FMR), as affordable housing is a major concern in our area. JE bases our living wage off of a four year average of the FMR, because the FMR can be volatile. We studied how wage rate changes would be impacted by annually using a four year average of the Fair Market Rent as a base. An average smooths out volatile changes while still being responsive to increases in the cost of living. If there is more than a 3% increase in the four year average, we adjust the rate.