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What Does It Cost To Live in Buncombe?

Group says more than it did last year

Staff Reports

Asheville – What does it cost to love in the area? More than last year according to a local group. Just Economics (JE), an Asheville-based local nonprofit organization most known for promoting living wages, announces an increase in the local Living Wage rate for 2019.

According to the group, the new rate will is $13.65/hr for those employees not offered employer-provided health insurance and $12.15/hr for those that are offered employer-provided health insurance. That’s up nearly $3.50 per hour from last year’s JE living wage.

By definition, the Living Wage rate is not static. Locally housing cost continue to rise dramatically, which translates to an increase in the cost of living, dictating the rate change. Employers use JE’s rate as the benchmark to set their own minimum wage.

JE certified employers are committed to providing a wage that their employees can live on without relying on taxpayer-supported programs, or outside help. The true mark of a successful business is not just creating profits alone; that success means employers do not rely on outside agencies to provide food and shelter for their employees.

JE defines the concept of a living wage as the amount a worker needs to make to meet their basic needs without public or private assistance. The living wage rate sets a standard for a different wage floor. To determine the living wage rate, JE uses the Universal Living Wage formula.

The Buncombe County living wage rate is used in both JE’s public policy advocacy and voluntary Living Wage Certification program. The City of Asheville, the towns of Montreat and Weaverville, and Buncombe County all accepted the previous wage rate as a wage floor for policy about public employees. Public agencies using JE’s wage rate are expected to make adjustments at the beginning of their fiscal year.

With over 425 employers in the Certification program, JE has the largest network of its kind in the country. The certification program aims 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. JE, along with two national partners, authored a toolkit for other communities to use in establishing a similar program

The program is an innovative approach to addressing root causes of poverty. Living Wage Certification is valid for two-years before an employer is required to recertify. Business owners due for re-certification in 2019 can opt for a two-year certification at the new rate, or utilize the grace period to re-certify at the previous living wage rate for one-year. Existing Living Wage Certified Employers have been notified of the wage rate change and will have ample time to make adjustments in their wage scale. All employers must make the necessary adjustments by January 1, 2020, and all businesses or organizations applying for Living Wage Certification for the first time in 2019 will be at the new rate.

“While neither the federal government nor the state of North Carolina have raised the minimum wage above $7.25 in a decade, here in Western North Carolina we are working together with employers to establish a wage floor that is more sustainable for workers. Our living wage rate is a better starting place than the minimum wage and we encourage all local employers to join the hundreds of businesses and nonprofits who have voluntarily chosen to raise the wage floor and contribute to a more just and sustainable economic community,” said Vicki Meath, Executive Director Just Economics.

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