By Heather Leah, January 7 2020
A nonprofit announced Tuesday that hundreds of businesses in Orange County may increase their minimum wage to $14.90 in 2020.
The Orange County Living Wage coalition, or OCLW, works with participating businesses to promote higher salaries for their employees. Over 200 locally-owned companies have voluntarily joined the OCLW certification program since it began in 2015.
OCLW defines a “living wage” as “the minimum income a worker needs to cover his or her most basic needs – rent, utilities, food, transportation, childcare – freed of any form of governmental assistance.”
Minimum wage in North Carolina is currently at $7.25 an hour. If OCLW businesses adopt the new living wage, it would be more than double the state minimum.
According to a proclamation from the mayor for the Town of Hillsborough, the federal minimum wage has not been raised in over 10 years.
OCLW’s living wage roster is comprised of public, private, and nonprofit employers based in Carrboro, Chapel Hill, Hillsborough, and the county.
“There are 205 certified employers in Orange County,” said Susan Romaine, who is on the steering committee for OCLW. She credits these certified companies as “helping their workers make ends meet during the current affordable housing crisis.”
Democratic lawmakers and worker advocates are working to raise North Carolina’s minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 an hour by 2024.
Calculating a ‘living wage’
“To calculate its living wage, OCLW uses the widely accepted Universal Living Wage Formula, based on the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) standard: no more than 30% of a worker’s gross income should be spent on housing,” said Romaine.
“For its living wage calculations, OCLW defines ‘housing’ as the average cost of a one-bed apartment in a four-county area comprised of Alamance, Chatham, Durham and Orange Counties. Our organization looks at our three surrounding counties to calculate average rent because only 20% of those who work in Orange County also live here,” said Romaine.
According to OCLW’s statistics, many local employees are forced to live in and commute from surrounding counties where housing is more affordable.