Orange County living wage rises due to rising rents

The county’s living wage rose from $15.40 to $15.85 an hour this year after adjusting for rising rent prices, according to Orange County Living Wage.

Susan Romaine, the founder of Orange County Living Wage, said a minimum wage is insufficient to keep people above the poverty line, but a living wage helps.

“We believe that if you work full time, you should be living above the poverty line,” Romaine said.

why is it important

A living wage is the minimum amount an individual must earn per hour to meet basic needs in their area. The calculation of the universal living wage, which is determined using 30% of expected personal income spent on housing, establishes the local living wage.

The minimum wage in North Carolina has been at the federal level of $7.25 per hour since 2009.

The monthly fair market rent for a one-bedroom apartment in the Durham-Chapel Hill metro area rose 5.75% in the new year to $1,030, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Development. urban. The living wage in Orange County increased by 2.92% in 2021.

Romaine said earning a living wage reduces stress.

“When you’re at $7.25 an hour, you’re living very close to the limit,” she said. “You live paycheck to paycheck. You are trying to decide which bills have the highest priority. I believe that one of the very important benefits of a decent salary is to reduce at least some of this stress.

Romaine, who is also a member of the Carrboro City Council, said employers offering a living wage can encourage people who work in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro area to live there as well.

Delores Bailey, executive director of Chapel Hill-based affordable housing nonprofit EMPOWERment, Inc., said working with struggling tenants and landlords in the area helped convince her to provide a decent salary to its employees.

She thinks UNC should do the same.

“There are a lot of people working at the hospital, there are people working at the university, cleaning buildings, landscaping, picking up trash,” Bailey said. “There are many who need to earn at least a living wage.”

Orange County Living Wage offers voluntary Living Wage certification for employers and aims to encourage consumer interaction with certified businesses through marketing and promotion.

More than 200 local businesses and non-profit organizations are currently on certification list.

Living wage certified companies

One such company is Brandwein’s Bagels. Founder Alex Brandwein said it was important to provide a living wage to support valuable employees.

“The team members that work for us are everything,” Brandwein said. “They are the ones who make things happen. We really want to be part of this community and support the people in it, and for me, that starts with providing meaningful work, a supportive environment, and decent pay.

Brandwein said he hopes his company culture, which includes providing a living wage, will provide a more sustainable experience for his employees.

“Everyone has so much to do,” Brandwein said. “Hopefully that makes everything a little better for them.”

Rock Chapel Hill school owner David Joseph said part of his motivation for providing a living wage for his employees was to compete in the job market. School of Rock offers music lessons to the community.

It said it has implemented paid vacations, pension plans and bonuses to reward its employees for staying with the company throughout the pandemic.

Joseph also said he believed the minimum wage should be increased to meet rising living wage figures.

“Somebody makes more money, and it’s usually not the lowest person on the totem pole,” Joseph said.

The Meantime Coffee Co., a student-run on-campus cafe, was recently certified by Orange County Living Wage. Meanwhile, CEO Alaina Plauche said the decision to officially start doing so was made due to low tipping at the height of the pandemic.

“We realized, ‘Hey, with our current pay structure, people are only getting paid $9 or $10 an hour,’ which is not sustainable at all,” Plauche said.

With the minimum wage being less than half the recommended living wage in Orange County, Plauche said institutional changes needed to be made.

“Things get more expensive, the way they do,” Plauche said. “But also, at the same time, the minimum wage has not increased at all.”

Romaine said Orange County Living Wage hopes to expand a mentorship program in 2022, in which companies already offering living wages would guide aspiring living wage providers toward their goal.

“If there’s been a silver lining to the pandemic, it’s put the spotlight on wages,” she said.


@DTHCityState |

To get the day’s news and headlines delivered to your inbox every morning, sign up for our email newsletters.

Michael A. Bynum