Durham Living Wage Project uses Asheville’s Just Economics as program model

The Durham Living Wage Project, in its first year, recently cited WNC's Just Economics, the largest living wage certifier in the nation, as its project model.

On Monday, March 9, The News & Observer posted a story on Durham’s new living wage certification program — titled the Durham Living Wage Project, citing Asheville’s Just Economics as its model.

The Just Economics Living Wage Certification Program, the largest of its kind in the country, has certified more than 400 Western North Carolina businesses as paying a “living wage” to its employees. The goal of the program is to create a sustainable economy through a stronger, dedicated workforce.

And what is the living wage? For those not yet familiar, the “living wage is the minimum amount that a worker must earn to afford his or her basic necessities, without public or private assistance,” explains JE on its website. “In short, a living wage is the real, just minimum wage.”

And Durham’s Living Wage Project is just getting started.

According to The News & Observer, 20 businesses and eight nonprofits have earned a certified living wage status through the city’s program thus far, totaling a combined 692 employees getting paid up to 70 percent more than the current minimum wage. Programs like JE and the Durham Living Wage Project are designed to bring more money back into the local economy — as well as improving “employee retention and doing the right thing,” explains The News & Observer.

JE explains the benefits further on its site: “A worker who is paid the minimum wage of $7.25 an hour … cannot possibly afford basic necessities without assistance. This creates problems not only for workers, but for businesses and the local economy.”

In January 2015, JE raised the living wage standard for single individuals in WNC from $11.85 an hour to $12.50 an hour without employer-provided health insurance — and $11 with employer-provided health insurance.

In Durham, “employers must pay individuals at least $12.33 an hour without insurance or $10.83 an hour with insurance,” reads the News & Observer. “Independent contractors have to be paid at least $14.33 an hour.”

And on the Durham Living Wage Project’s website, organizers give a shout-out to JE for its program’s model, which JE made into a “Living Wage Certification Toolkit” in 2014.

The toolkit, explains Executive Director Vicki Meath in a short video, was designed to help cities, like Durham, replicate the living wage program in their own communities.

In the video made on March 5, Meath and Mark Hebbard, JE’s living wage certification coordinator, welcome Durham into the world of the living wage and congratulate them on the progress made thus far. “We’re excited about this launch, no doubt,” Hebbard says in the video. “We’re excited to have you in the community and look forward to partnering with you guys in the future. Cheers!”

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About Hayley Benton
Current freelance journalist and artist. Former culture/entertainment reporter at the Asheville Citizen-Times and former news reporter at Mountain Xpress. Also a coffee drinker, bad photographer, teller of stupid jokes and maker-upper of words. I can be reached at hayleyebenton [at] gmail.com. Follow me @HayleyTweeet

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