Just Economics has relaunched our Living Wage Certification program and reopened our application for Living Wage Certification! When we recalculated the Buncombe County 2021 Living Wage Rate at $17.30/ hour, we heard a lot of surprise from businesses and workers alike. To carefully consider how to move forward, Just Economics’ board and staff took the last couple of months to evaluate our certification program and make some changes to address combined needs of a workforce fighting to keep up with a high cost of living and the hardships for businesses presented by COVID-19, including an option for businesses to request an extended timeline to adjust to the new living wage rate.
Just Economics cares deeply about WNC’s small business community and we believe that it is exceptionally important for local businesses to survive this economic crisis and thrive to keep the vibrant local economy alive and to provide local jobs for local people, so why did we release such a high living wage rate?
- We did the math. Just Economics has been using the same method to calculate the living wage rate for the last 10 years, called the Universal Living Wage Formula. The formula is based on the cost of available housing using Federal Fair Market Rent (FMR) data. The cost of housing in Buncombe County, and therefore the cost of living, has risen rapidly over the past few years.
- Workers are having a hard time making ends meet. The Universal Living Wage Formula is based on the consideration that an individual is spending 30% of their income on living expenses and still making ends meet without needing public or private assistance. The living wage rate doesn’t factor in dependents (like children) or the ability to save money. At the end of the day, we believe that it’s important to be open and honest about how much each individual in our community needs to make in order to survive.
- The minimum wage hasn’t increased in 12 years. At this point, the Federal minimum wage is widely known to be insufficient. Full-time minimum wage workers cannot afford a two-bedroom rental anywhere in the U.S. and cannot afford a one-bedroom rental in 95% of U.S. counties, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition’s annual “Out of Reach” report. We need a more just and equitable wage floor and that’s where living wages come in.
- It’s a goal to be working toward. Just Economics understands that some businesses are not going to be able to make the jump to $17.30/ hour right away, but it’s a goal. Without a more reasonable minimum wage in place, employers lack guidance on setting equitable wages. It is our hope that the living wage rate helps serve as a goal for local businesses to be working toward.
Over the course of this year, Just Economics will be operating our Living Wage Certification Program in much the same way as we were before the pandemic. One new change to our application includes an option for employers to request an extended timeline of up to 6 months to adjust to the new living wage rate. Our hope is that employers who need the extra time to make the adjustment will choose to request an extension and stay in the program, exhibiting their commitment to living wages and accountability.
Just Economics and our Certification Committee will be spending the next twelve months continuing to evaluate our internal policies and reassessing the method we use to calculate the living wage rate. We will be releasing a number of educational materials, workshops and listening sessions about wages, housing costs and how to take action on these issues. We welcome input from workers, employers and the public as we continue to adapt and reshape our program this year.
You can find the 2021 Buncombe County application here: bit.ly/2021LWC
Click here to learn more about Living Wage.