Who We Are
In early 2015, during an Orange County Democratic Party precinct meeting held in Susan Romaine’s living room, a question came up about the minimum wage in North Carolina. Was there anything that the precinct could do to help community members working full-time jobs but still living in poverty?
The state’s $7.25 minimum wage had not been raised since 2009, and inflation was eroding purchasing power with each passing year. For a worker supporting a child or two, an annual salary of $14,500 simply could not cover basics like rent, food, transportation, and utilities – let alone an occasional movie ticket or restaurant meal. Nor can it now – when the minimum wage remains an unconscionable $7.25.
As a group, we discussed lobbying to raise the minimum wage at the state or federal level. But the time frame for change proved unacceptably long. Our small group of community activists wanted to make an immediate impact. A quick web search uncovered two voluntary living wage certification programs in North Carolina: Just Economics, in Asheville, and Durham Living Wage Project. Our vision materialized: to launch a similar initiative in Orange County.
On July 1, 2015, Orange County Living Wage (OCLW) certified its first living wage employer, Marcoplos Construction. Since then, more than 300 local employers from every corner of the county – including BIPOC- and women-owned, nonprofit and for-profit, public school systems and town governments – have appeared on our living wage roster. Together, they have raised wages for workers at the low end of the pay scale by over $3 million, lifting many out of poverty. In turn, they have allowed many who work here to also live here – and spend their money here. The cycle is a win for workers, a win for businesses, and a win for our community as a whole.
In 2023, our board approved a strategic plan to guide our work over the next three years. Read an overview.
To sustain this movement, please give our living wage employers your business and express your gratitude at every opportunity!
About Our Director
Debbie Everly is a local residential real estate agent who especially loves working with first-time homebuyers. She met her husband while coaching with Special Olympics Orange County, where they are both longtime volunteers. Together, they have five amazing young adults and one silly pup named Wilbur.
Board of Directors