With income inequality becoming a focal point issue in the 2016 election campaign, people are reflecting more on how to increase economic opportunity for people in communities across America. While politicians often debate the minimum wage (raise it? leave it alone? do away with it altogether?), some communities are taking a grassroots approach to the issue.
One such community is Asheville, where Just Economics started a living wage campaign in 2007. According to its web site, the group’s mission is to educate, advocate, and organize for a just and sustainable economy that works for all in Western North Carolina.
Its linchpin for this mission is a living wage, which Just Economics sets each year. In 2016, the group set the living wage at $11 per hour for employers who provide health insurance, and $12.50 per hour with no health insurance coverage.
The formula is based on the four-year average of the Fair Market Rent in Asheville-Buncombe County as determined by the US government. The wage rate gets adjusted if there is a 3% or greater change from the previous year.
Just Economics maintains a listing of Living Wage Certified Employers, who must go through an application process in order to be certified. Thus far, three local cooperative businesses have earned the designation: French Broad Food Cooperative, Self-Help Credit Union and Ecusta Credit Union.
“It wasn’t a hard decision to make,” said Susan Holliday, the manager at Ecusta. The credit union received its certification in 2012. “We saw a need with some of our employees struggling to survive on one salary with the rising cost of living,” Holliday recalled, adding once she saw the living wage statistics for the area it was clear the credit union needed to act.
One key advantage for the living wage is its grassroots nature. Unlike the minimum wage which sets a floor (now $7.25/hour) for the entire country, the living wage movement is based on the local cost of living. In addition to Asheville, other such groups have formed or are forming in many communities in the Carolinas and elsewhere.
It’s a good start toward tackling an important issue confronting millions of people. And it’s something that more co-ops should look into for the benefit of their employees.