Submitted by Rachel R on Thu, 10/02/2014 - 1:21pm
Low wages holding families back in Charlotte and other North Carolina cities
Image source: Flickr user James Williamor
The US Census Bureau just released new data that shows that many in North Carolina are still struggling. Even though employment numbers are up and more in our state are working, that doesn't mean they're earning the wages they need to support a reasonable standard of living. One-third of North Carolina workers are earning poverty wages – this is up drastically from a decade ago when it was closer to one-fourth. Either way, this is far too many people earning far too less.
What is the poverty level and who is earning it?
For an individual, poverty wages are $11,945. For a family of four, it's $23,300. North Carolina's minimum wage is $7.25, which equates to annual pay of $15,080. That's barely above poverty level for an individual and drastically lower for a small family. This proves out what we already know – minimum wage is not a living wage.
Yet minimum wage earners are important to our economy and society. Not only do they prepare our coffee at Starbucks and serve us fast food, but these types of jobs make up just 5% of low wage positions. Most serve in much more important roles like security guards, home health care workers, pharmacy workers, nursing assistants and educational assistants.
Why are more workers than ever in NC earning less?
Up until 15 years ago, our state was holding its own and even out-performing most of the rest of the country, with fewer workers earning low wages. But once manufacturing and construction industries began to suffer and the big recession hit, the fate of workers in our state took a nose dive, so now we have far more low-wage workers than the national average.
With so many earning less than the poverty wage, this means they may have to seek a second job, rely on state services or run up debt to support themselves. This reduces their quality of life and also prevents them from participating in our economy. This, in turn, hurts us all. Low-wage workers are more likely to be female and have a high school degree (or less) as their highest educational level. 5% of black workers, 4% of white and Latino workers and 3% of Asian workers earn at or below the minimum wage. This shows that this is a crisis that hits every community and can impact any family.
What can be done to help low-wage workers and our state's economy?
There are some measures that can be taken to ensure that those that we count on in these important jobs can afford to support themselves and their families. Some to consider include:
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