In response to "The Gospel According to Jerry" commentary in Xpress' March 10 issue, I'd like to shed a little more light on the critical issue of living wages.
In 2006, Asheville City Council adopted a policy to pay all city employees a living wage, which, at the time, was $10.86 per hour. This living wage ordinance sets an example for all Asheville employers to take the initiative to raise their wage standards and pay their workers a wage that at least allows them to meet their basic needs. There is growing awareness of the fact that working full time for a minimum wage does not keep a worker above the official poverty line. According to The Working Poor Families Project, 29.6 percent of working families in North Carolina held jobs in occupations paying below the poverty line in 2008.
The city's living wage ordinance is a step in the right direction, although the wage should be increased to $11.35 per hour to reflect the 2010 living wage. But what about those government jobs that are contracted out to the private sector? If Council does not adopt a living wage ordinance that covers contract employees, then it is effectively outsourcing city labor to businesses with lower wage standards.
Regarding Jerry's complaint about the vinegar in this recipe: In 2006, the Economic Policy Institute conducted an extensive economic-impact study of local living wages and found that "living wage laws have small to moderate effects on municipal budgets." (You can find the study at www.epi.org/publications/entry/bp170). A detailed survey of 20 cities found that the actual budgetary effect of living-wage laws had been consistently overestimated by city administrators; actual costs tended to be less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the overall budget. Multiple studies have shown that the bidding for municipal contracts remained competitive or even improved as a result of living-wage ordinances. Studies have also measured significant benefits to both the businesses and the workers affected by living-wage ordinances. Pretty sweet vinegar, if you ask me.
It is up to City Council to make the call: Will it lead the business community in combating poverty wages and building a just local economy or continue outsourcing jobs to businesses that perpetuate the problems faced by low-wage workers. The argument for living wages is based on economic logic and moral imperative, and municipal policy should be as well.
— Sophia Hatz
Volunteer, Just Economics of WNC