Just Economics announces increase in living-wage rate for 2015

Rising housing costs and other factors “translates [into] an increase in the cost of living” in the Asheville metro area, says Just Economics, a local nonprofit that advocates for living wages and certifies area businesses. Here’s the organization’s explanation about increasing the base rates.

Just Economics announces increase in living-wage rate for 2015

Just Economics, a local nonprofit organization most known for promoting living wages, announces an increase in the local Living Wage rate for 2015. The new rate will be $12.50/hr for those employees that are not offered employer provided health insurance and $11/hr for those that are offered employer provided health insurance. This is roughly a 5% increase from the 2014 rate of $11.85/hr and $10.35/hr respectively. The last change was in 2013.

“By definition, the Living Wage rate is not static. Recently, we’ve seen a dramatic rise in the cost of housing here, which translates to an increase in the cost of living, dictating the rate change,” says Mark Hebbard, Just Economics’ Living Wage Employer Certification Program Coordinator. ”Employers use our rate as the benchmark to set their own “minimum wage”, they want to know what the bottom line is when it comes to a responsible approach to a wage floor”. He goes on, “Our certified employers are committed to providing a wage that their employees can live on without relying on taxpayer supported programs or outside help. We think that the true mark of a successful business is not just in creating profits alone, but to create profits while providing at least the bare necessities for your employees; to be successful means that you do not rely on others to provide food & shelter for your own employees”.

Just Economics defines the concept of a living wage as the amount a worker needs to make in order to meet their basic needs without public or private assistance. The living wage rate sets a standard for a different wage floor. “While we know that what it takes to get by is different for every individual based on their circumstances, we set a standard in this community with our living wage rate that we see as a more just minimum than the minimum wage, a better starting place,” Says Vicki Meath, Just Economics’ Executive Director. Just Economics uses the Universal Living Wage formula to determine the living wage rate (for more on the formula, see “About Living Wages” at www.justeconomicswnc.org). “We use a formula based on federal numbers in relation to the cost of housing because we know that in this area, the relatively high cost of housing in comparison to the abundance of low-wage jobs is not contributing to a sustainable local economy.” Meath continues. “We believe that a full time worker should, at the very least, be able to put a roof over their head and food on their table without financial assistance.”

The organization uses the living wage rate in both their public policy advocacy and their voluntary Living Wage Employer Certification program. The City of Asheville, the towns of Weaverville and Montreat, and Buncombe County all accepted the previous wage rate as a wage floor for policy about public employees. Just Economics will continue to work with local public entities to move toward the new rate.

Just Economics also certifies employers paying a living wage as part of their voluntary Living Wage Employer Certification Program. With around 400 employers signed on to the program, Just Economics also has the largest network of its kind in the country. In 2014, with two national partners, Just Economics helped author a toolkit for other communities to use in establishing a similar program and the organization is consulting with several other communities as a national leader. The Certification program aims to reward and recognize existing Living Wage Certified Employers in our community, 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. 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 2015 can opt to sign up for a two year certification at the new rate or utilize the grace period and re-certify at the previous living wage rate for one year in order to make the necessary adjustments before re-applying in 2016. Existing Living Wage Certified Employers were notified of the wage rate change in December but will have ample time to make adjustments in their wage scale. All new businesses certified in 2015 will be at the new 2015 rate.

“As a busy, growing business it is important to us to have Just Economics as a social conscience. I am committed to the concept of providing Living Wages and rely on Just Economics for advising on what those wage rates are”, said Time Schaller, owner of the Wedge, a Living Wage Certified Employer.

“The cost of Living in Asheville has certainly gone up, I’d expect the Living Wage rate would as well. Certification not only provides me with a bottom figure to work up from, but has been crucial in keeping my bottom line positive, my turnover rates low, our morale high, and my conscience clean!” Kelly Prime, Co-owner of Relax and Rejuvenate Massage Therapy and Day Spa.

About Margaret Williams
Editor Margaret Williams first wrote for Xpress in 1994. An Alabama native, she has lived in Western North Carolina since 1987 and completed her Masters of Liberal Arts & Sciences from UNC-Asheville in 2016. Follow me @mvwilliams

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