Just Economics (JE), a local nonprofit known for promoting living wages, has announced an increase in the local hourly Living Wage rate for 2017, to $13.00 without employer-provided health insurance, $11.50 for those with insurance.
The Living Wage rate reflects the cost of living in a given community, and is the base amount an employee needs to cover those costs without relying on taxpayer-supported programs or other help. Employers use JE’s rate as the benchmark to set their own minimum wage, and it is used as a wage floor for public employees by the City of Asheville, the towns of Canton, Montreat, and Weaverville, and Buncombe County. Public agencies using the Just Economics wage rate are expected to make adjustments at the beginning of their fiscal year.
Living Wage Certification is valid for two years before an employer is required to recertify. Existing Living Wage Certified Employers have been notified of the wage rate change, and businesses certifying for the first time this year will be at the new 2017 rate.
The main reason for the 2017 increase is that housing costs have continued to rise in the Asheville area, which translates to an increase in the cost of living. Though the vacancy rate has improved from its historic 1% rate of recent years, availability remains tight and costs are high.
JE Executive Director Vicki Meath says, “While we know what it takes to get by is different for every individual based on their circumstances, we set a standard in this community with our living wage rate that we see as a more just minimum than the minimum wage, a better starting place. We use a formula based on federal numbers in relation to the cost of housing because we know that in this area, the relatively high cost of housing in comparison to the abundance of low-wage jobs is not contributing to a sustainable local economy. We believe a full-time worker should, at the very least, be able to put a roof over their head and food on their table without financial assistance.”
The Certification program is an innovative approach to addressing root causes of poverty. It works to reward and recognize existing Living-Wage-Certified Employers, to provide employers with tools and incentives to increase workers’ wages up to a living wage, to connect consumers to employers that provide a living wage, and to promote a just and sustainable local economy.
With around 400 employers signed on to the program, Just Economics has the largest network of its kind in the country. In 2014, with two national partners, JE helped author a toolkit for other communities to use in establishing a similar program.
“When workers cannot make ends meet, they [must] rely on government and private agencies to meet their basis needs,” explains Carmen Ramos-Kennedy, JE’s Living Wage Program Coordinator. “However, when they earn a living wage those same families are self-reliant, and tend to spend more of their earnings locally, providing stimulation to the local economy. For employers, paying a living wage can mean lower employee turnover, a more motivated workforce, and the increased goodwill of the community.”
For more information about certification as a Living Wage employer, visit www.justeconomicswnc.org or contact Carmen Ramos-Kennedy at (828) 423-6476 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or Vicki Meath at (828) 301-7291 or email@example.com.