This week will be commemorated as #wageweek by advocates, workers, and business leaders across the country. It was this week in 2009 that the federal minimum wage was last raised to $7.25 where it remains today.
The failure of the federal minimum wage to be raised in the past six years is just the recent failure in a long line of inaction that has allowed this wage floor to erode and with it an important check on rising inequality, economic hardship and inefficient economic performance. The minimum wage is now far below what it actually takes to make ends meet for a worker and a labor standard that fails to reflect the modern economy.
Here are four facts about the minimum wage in North Carolina:
- There are an estimated 113,000 North Carolinians who earn at or below the federal minimum wage according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Many more work just above the minimum wage but below a wage that would sustain their families and boost the economy. Recent estimates by the Economic Policy Institute found that 1.3 million Tar Heels would benefit from an increase to the wage floor to $12 by 2020.
- A minimum wage worker in North Carolina would need, on average, a $8.96 raise to reach the hourly earnings necessary to support themselves and one child. In some counties that figure is slightly higher or lower but overall that signals that the gap between earnings and cost of living will require many minimum wage workers to work more hours, find public support to make ends meet or go without meeting basic needs. All three create challenges for communities at large to thrive as workers have fewer dollars to participate in the local economy.
- A wage floor that doesn’t reflect what is happening in the rest of the economy holds the economy back. The minimum wage in 1979 in North Carolina reflected 64 percent of the median wage in the state, today that ratio has fallen to just above 40 percent and well below agreed upon standards considered healthy for an economy. The erosion of the minimum wage is also reflected in its failure to keep up with the rising cost of goods and services. If the minimum wage had held the same value it had at its peak in 1968, the hourly wage floor would be set at higher than $10 per hour. If the minimum wage reflected the rising productivity of workers, the standard should be nearly $20 per hour.
- There is strong public support for raising the minimum wage. More than half of North Carolina voters polled in 2014 supported a state increase to the minimum wage. Across the country 29 states and more than a dozen localities have raised their minimum wage to above the federal standard recognizing that their economies are held back when workers can’t spend in their local communities and meet basic needs. And as my colleagues and partners will share in the coming days, communities across North Carolina have and are taking action to ensure that workers are paid a wage that boosts the local economy.
It is long past time to raise the wage in North Carolina.