There’s been a flurry of minimum-wage-raising activity in Charlotte recently, which is certainly good news for the low-wage workers whose paychecks are increasing.
Corporations and government wages are rising
Earlier this month, Bank of America raised its minimum wage for employees to $17 an hour, with plans to raise it to $20 by 2021. The City of Charlotte’s new budget proposes raising the minimum wage for city workers to $16 an hour. Mecklenburg County recently increased the minimum to $15 an hour for county employees. Last summer, both Novant Health and Atrium Health increased their employees’ minimum wage to $12.50 an hour.
Consensus seems to be growing around the idea of $15 as a reasonable minimum hourly wage. The Raise the Wage Act (H.R. 582), which would increase the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2024, is making its way through Congress. And in what is considered a victory by Fight for 15, which supports increasing the federal minimum wage, McDonald’s announced in March that it will no longer lobby against raising the minimum wage.
But is $15 an hour really a living wage?
The answer, it turns out, is a bit complicated. A recent Spectrum News report, “Living Wages in North Carolina’s Largest Cities”, highlighted the differences in income needed to afford life’s basic necessities in our state, depending on geographic location and family makeup.
The report refers to MIT’s Living Wage Calculator, which estimates the cost of living in communities across the country based on typical expenses.
For example, in Mecklenburg County, a single adult could get by with $12.58 per hour. But, in a family with two working adults and two children, each adult would need to make at least $15.67 per hour. And a single parent with three children would need to earn $35.49 an hour just to meet the family’s basic needs.
So, while the recent minimum wage increases by local government and businesses are commendable, it’s important to recognize the difference between minimum wage and living wage. What is sufficient income for one family may not stretch far enough for another.
Who is left out?
And although some low-wage employees will benefit from increases in the minimum wage, a lot of hardworking people are left out. Many businesses hire contractors to perform duties such as landscaping and janitorial work; these contractors are not obligated to pay their laborers more than North Carolina’s minimum wage, which currently matches the $7.25 per hour federal minimum.
A report by the National Low Income Housing Coalition last year demonstrated there’s not a single county in the entire nation where a full-time worker earning the $7.25 per hour minimum wage can afford a two-bedroom apartment. Here in Charlotte, to afford that apartment, a worker would have to work 103 hours a week, the equivalent of two-and-a-half full-time jobs.