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Wake County’s Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to raise the minimum wage for county employees from $11.08 to $13.50 per hour Monday.

The change affects 75 Wake County employees who are all in the lowest wage bracket.

Sig Hutchinson, a member of the Wake County Board of Commissioners, said providing a living wage for government employees is in the best interest of the county.

“I believe that a living wage is good for everyone. It’s good for employers, it’s good for employees, it’s good for communities, it’s good for families and it’s good for the economy,” he said.

“I’ve felt for a long time that no one should work 40 hours a week and then not be able to take care of their personal needs and their families.”

Wake County has the highest cost of living of any county in North Carolina. Matt Calabria, who also serves on the Board of Commissioners, said providing a living wage is essential for the livelihoods of government employees.

“If we’re going to fight poverty, the least we can do is make sure we’re not responsible for it as employers,” Calabria said.

Hutchinson said the minimum wage increase will cost $93,000, which is less than one tenth of one percent of the county’s $1.14 billion budget.

“What we found was interesting is that it was not near as much as we had anticipated in terms of the impact on the budget,” Hutchinson said. “So doing right at the end of the day made not only social and moral sense, but it also made economic sense.”

Calabria said the wage increase will not cause a tax hike or a reduction in services for Wake County residents.

With the federal minimum wage set at $7.25 an hour, workers nationwide have been going on strike in recent years in hopes of receiving a pay increase to meet the living wage.

The issue has also attracted attention during the presidential campaign with Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders making the $15 per hour minimum wage a cornerstone of his bid.

Meanwhile, Republican candidates universally said they would oppose plans to raise the minimum wage during the last GOP debate.

Michael Walden, an N.C. State University economics professor, said minimum wages have been declining since the 1960s when they were adjusted for inflation.

“The minimum wage that we had in the U.S. in the late 1960s, adjusted for inflation, would translate to around $11 an hour today,” he said.

Earl McKee, chairperson of the Orange County Board of Commissioners said the living wage for government employees in Orange County has been set at $12.76 per hour for some time.

McKee said the number $12.76 is based on research into the cost of living in Orange County. Orange County also has one of the highest costs of living in the state.

The Board of Commissioners is actively encouraging other employers in Orange County to pay a living wage, McKee said.

“The Orange County school system has raised theirs. There are several dozen employers in Orange County who have already signed on to the living wage movement, and we’re wholly supportive of that,” McKee said.

“But even at $12.76, living in Orange County is an expensive proposition, and $12.76 is much higher than the federal minimum wage.”

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