As #WageWeek continues to celebrate local and state efforts to improve wages across the country, The Progressive Pulse is highlighting the work of advocates, businesses, and elected officials engaged in innovative efforts to raise wages in local communities across North Carolina. This blog post is the next in this series, and represents a guest post from Carl Rist, board member of Durham Peoples Alliance and convener of the Economic Inequality Action team.

These are strange times we live in. Recognizing the growing gap between rich and poor, our President has described economic inequality as the defining issue of our time. The presidential candidates from both parties are now talking openly about growing inequality, and yet, it’s now been six years since minimum wage workers got a raise.

In Durham, NC, we’ve launched an innovative effort to recognize employers that pay a “living wage” and raise up the importance of living wages in our community. Durham has long been among the leading cities when it comes to promoting living wages. Durham was the first city in North Carolina and one of the first in the nation to pass a living wage ordinance in the late 1990s. More recently, with new data from the NC Justice Center that shows that Durham has the highest median hourly wage in the state, but the 86th worst income inequality (our of our state’s 100 counties), concern has been growing about the growing gap between rich and poor in the Bull City.

When a local progressive group, the Durham People’s Alliance, began studying the issue and possible solutions, it became clear that finding a local policy solution to this growing problem would be challenging, Two years ago, the General Assembly weakened all living wage ordinances in the state by removing the ability of these ordinances to apply to all city and county contractors. What’s more, a web of state preemption laws related to our state’s constitution keeps us from passing local policies, such as local minimum wage ordinances, that would apply to all private employers.

That’s why members of the Economic Inequality “action team” of the People’s Alliance decided to work with private employers to voluntarily raise wages for workers in Durham.

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NC Budget and Tax Center

Durham’s Joint City-County planning Committee spent last Wednesday morning hearing from city experts on the state of affordable housing near planned transit stations. As efforts to enhance mobility move forward, Durham officials want to be prepared for not only the benefits that new transit investments bring but the challenges as well. As such, they have invested resources and staff time in assessing the stock of affordable housing, options to maintain existing affordable housing, as well as policy tools and potential sites available for expanding affordable housing.

Housing is considered affordable if housing-related costs such as rent and utilities are no more than 30 percent of a household’s income.

Research shows that a majority of neighborhoods where new transit stations are built experience higher housing costs, undergo gentrification, and attract higher-income residents who are less likely to use public transit. With these troubling findings in mind, Durham CAN and other community activists organized a successful policy campaign over several years to urge local elected officials to plan for this reality. In response, Durham elected officials set a goal that at least 15 percent of housing within a half mile of each transit station be affordable to residents at or below 60 percent of the median area income. That is an annual earnings of roughly $37,350 for a family of three, which is a very modest income considering that $51,729 is needed to earn a living wage for that family size in Durham County. Read More


As reported in the Durham Herald Sun and The Washington Post, the Durham school board voted last week not to keep its relationship with Teach for America (TFA) beyond the 2015-16 school year, allowing the school system’s current TFA teachers to finish out their contracts.

According to the Durham Herald Sun:

Among concerns voiced by school board members who voted not to pursue any new relationships with TFA is the program’s use of inexperienced teachers in high-needs schools.

“It feels like despite the best intention and the efforts, this has potential to do harm to some of our neediest students,” said school board member Natalie Beyer, who voted against the school district’s contract with TFA three years ago.

Others said they were concerned that TFA teachers only make a two-year commitment.

“I have a problem with the two years and gone, using it like community service as someone said,” said school board member Mike Lee.

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Living wageThe fallout from the destructive 2013 session of the North Carolina General Assembly continues to settle out across the state policy landscape.

As you will recall, during the waning days of the session, lawmakers enacted (and Governor McCrory approved) a new restriction on the ability of cities and counties to enter into contracts on their own terms. Last night, in response to the new law, Durham County Commissioners retracted part of the county’s forward-looking living wage ordinance.

The County Commissioners expressed regret about their action, which was in response to HB 74, signed into law by Gov. McCrory on August 23. The so-called “regulatory reform” law, among many other things,  Read More


The following post was submitted to NC Policy Watch by Vicki Meath, Executive Director of the group Just Economics in Asheville.

Another attack on workers and local governments
By Vicki Meath

Among the harmful and destructive bills passed during the waning hours of 2013 legislative session was HB 74 (“The Regulatory Reform Act of 2013”). The bill now awaits the Governor’s review.  

In this bill affecting rules in a variety of areas (including significant rollbacks of environmental protections) lawmakers included an anti-living wage, anti-local government, anti-worker provision. Section 5 eliminates the rights of cities and counties to enact living wage policy or paid sick day requirements for contract workers.   Read More