The OC Voice is a portion of the OC Report newsletter where local residents may have a platform to talk about local issues they care about. This column is also part of a series of columns by local government candidates. Susan Romaine is running for the Carrboro Board of Aldermen.
North Carolina’s $7.25 minimum wage has not budged for ten years. That’s right, no increase for skyrocketing rent payments and health insurance premiums, for the higher cost of cell phones, groceries, and utilities. The minimum wage has been stuck at $15,000 a year for an entire decade!
Who are minimum wage workers? They are disproportionately women of color and over the age of 20. Many are refugees and immigrants. They wash dishes and work the cash register at fast food restaurants. They care for our children and aging parents. They bag groceries and stock shelves. They wash cars and power wash houses. They clean our bathrooms, classrooms and board rooms. They are the people who help us every day.
Too many work more than one job but still cannot make ends meet. Some live in their cars to save on rent, joining the growing ranks of the “working homeless.” From paycheck to paycheck, their lives are filled with constant worry and the health complications that go along with that.
That’s why I joined with friends four years ago to form Orange County Living Wage. If our state legislature wouldn’t act, we would. Our nonprofit organization recognizes and certifies employers who voluntarily pay workers a living wage – $14.25 this year, nearly double the minimum wage. In turn, we do our best to promote them through social media, our website, newsletters, brochures, storefront decals and more.
In July 2015, Orange County Living Wage certified our first employer, Marcoplos Construction. Today, 190 local employers have signed on including restaurants, coffee shops, breweries, hair salons, kennels, automobile mechanics, bicycle shops and outfitters.
Some of these employers were already paying a living wage and easily qualified, but some lifted wages to qualify, to the tune of $710,000. That extra cash in the pockets of low-wage workers is quickly spent on haircuts, auto repair, and school supplies – injecting $2.3 million into our regional economy.
Along with economic benefits are immeasurable social benefits. The definition of a living wage means that a worker can afford a one-bedroom apartment in Chapel Hill-Carrboro. They can work here, play here, and spend their money here – building community connections along the way.
“The more we talk about it, the more we’ll see change,” said Ryan Cocca, co-founder of recently certified furniture maker Nugget Comfort.
Ryan’s right. Conversations create more awareness about the need for living wages in our community. But let’s walk the walk, too. Let’s support living wage employers with our business – because they’re paying extra to provide a more just, sustainable economy for all of us.
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