Eligibility

The basic criteria for becoming living wage certified is that an employer pays at least the current living wage rate to all full and part time employees. 

The Living Wage Rate:

The Living Wage rate for Buncombe County in 2022 is $17.70/hour (with or without health benefits).

The Buncombe County Living Wage Rate for 2021 was $17.30/hour without qualifying employer provided health insurance, or $15.80/hour with employer provided health insurance. 

For Rural WNC counties, the Living Wage Rate is $13.00/hour.

*Some Living Wage Certified businesses have applied for an extended timeline to adjust to the living wage rate due to COVID-19. Just Economics is in touch with these businesses about adjusting wages within a set time frame.


At the discretion of Just Economics, any employer may be rejected for living wage certification, have certification revoked or temporarily suspended for health and safety violations, violations of worker’s rights, harassment or other labor concerns.

Just Economics may take action even if an employer pays a living wage if the business is conducted in ways that are not in alignment with the mission, vision and/or goals of Just Economics, that could damage the value of the Living Wage Certification program, or reflects poorly on Just Economics and the other businesses in the network.

If an employer’s certification comes into question, Just Economics will request a dialogue with the intent of reaching a resolution.

Just Economics will not approve or deny an application by an employer while there is a known and active employee organizing effort or collective bargaining labor dispute. Any application that is submitted during an active and known organizing campaign or collective bargaining labor dispute will be held by Just Economics until the organizing campaign, negotiations, or collective bargaining disputes are resolved.

We recognize that there are different types of employees, employers, and compensation and have made the following clarifications:

Some exceptions:

The certification program has some exceptions for apprentices, minors under 18 working part-time, interns, and temporary-project based employees.  Also, employees in a probationary or training period not to exceed the first 90 days of employment are exempt from the wage criteria.

1099 contractors:

Our basic criteria is formulated for W-2 employees, however  some business types rely on the use of 1099 ’employees’. If you pay 1099 workers to carry out the main aspect of your business and pay them an hourly rate, we have special requirements to ensure that the tax liability of these workers is taken into consideration when determining a living wage. If you are using independent contractors for professional services such as accountants or lawyers, or if you are contracting with a service for a specific job such as a janitorial service that cleans your office, this information is unnecessary in determining your eligibility for certification.

Employees that receive tips, commission, or alternative means of compensation besides an hourly rate:

Our goal is to make sure that employees are consistently making a living wage when you combine their base wage with other forms of monetary compensation like tips, commission, etc.  If your employees are consistently making a living wage when the other forms of compensation are considered, your business is eligible for certification but will require follow-up employee interviews or redacted payroll information.


Frequently Asked Questions:

Do part time employees count?

Yes,  Just Economics does not differentiate wage rates for part-time versus full-time employees.  We look at our wage rate as a more just minimum than the minimum wage. The formula is based on what a worker would need to make if they were to work full time but do not make exceptions to the wage criteria for part-time employees.

How is the wage rate determined?

We use a formula based on the cost of housing to determine and adjust our wage rate. For more on this formula click here for Wage Rate.

Do you take into account non-monetary benefits such as employee discounts?

The idea of a living wage is that a full time worker could meet their basic needs without public or private assistance. We no longer subtract from the wage criteria when an employer provides health insurance, but we do note employers who provide health insurance on our website. We certainly applaud and encourage other non-monetary benefits such as childcare, retirement, free meals, or employee discounts, but we do not factor that into the living wage.

What else does Just Economics do?

The Living Wage Employer Certification is one program of Just Economics that helps us work toward our mission of educating, advocating, and organizing for a just and sustainable local economy.  For more on how this program fits into our mission and what else we do, click here for a bit About Us.

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