Orange County Living Wage (OCLW) announced a new annually adjusted living wage of $15.40 an hour, effective January 1, 2021. For living wage employers who provide at least half an employee’s health insurance coverage, the living wage rises to $13.90 an hour. A living wage is the minimum amount of income a worker needs to cover their most basic necessities without any form of governmental assistance.

OCLW calculates its living wage by using the widely accepted Universal Living Wage Formula based on the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) standard that no more than 30% of a person’s gross income should be devoted to housing. To calculate the wage each year, OCLW considers the average cost of a one-bed apartment in a four-county area that includes not only Orange but surrounding Alamance, Chatham, and Durham Counties, home to many who work in Orange County.

The year 2020 marked the fifth anniversary of OCLW’s program to certify employers who pay a living wage. Since 2015, the Orange County living wage has increased annually by an average of 3% to keep up with the rising cost of housing. Despite the challenges faced by employers to meet this gold standard, more than 250 employers have been certified since the beginning of the program and the 222 on OCLW’s current roster employ more than 9500 employees. In this past year of unprecedented health and financial challenges, 24 new employers were recognized for their commitment to pay a living wage. By contrast, employees making the minimum wage of $7.25 an hour have not seen an increase in their pay since July 24, 2009.

“During the pandemic, Orange County’s living wage employers are not unique in their day-to-day struggles to stay in business – with one exception,” says Susan Romaine, director of OCLW. “Making payroll will always be harder for the 222 employers on our roster who pay their employees a living wage. Let us support these employers by giving them our business and our thanks for making this critical investment in their workforce.”

Orange County Living Wage (OCLW) announced a new annually adjusted living wage of $14.90 an hour, effective January 1. For living wage employers who provide at least half an employee’s health insurance coverage, the living wage is $13.40 an hour. A living wage is the minimum amount of income a worker needs to cover his or her most basic needs (rent, utilities, food, transportation, childcare) without any form of governmental assistance. 206 employers in Orange County voluntarily pay their employees living wages and certify with OCLW as living wage employers.

To calculate its living wage, OCLW uses the widely accepted Universal Living Wage Formula. This formula is based on the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) standard: no more than 30% of a person’s gross income should be spent on housing. For its living wage calculations, OCLW defines “housing” as the average cost of a one-bed apartment in a four-county area comprised of Alamance, Chatham, Durham and Orange. OCLW includes the surrounding counties to calculate average rent because only 20% of those who work in Orange County also live here. Many local employees are forced to live in and commute from surrounding counties where housing is more affordable.

“For the first time, Orange County’s living wage is more than double the state and federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour,” said Susan Romaine, director of OCLW. “While our living wage adjusts for rising rent, the state and federal minimum wages have not budged in over 10 years. OCLW is extremely grateful to our living wage employers who are helping their workers make ends meet at a time of an affordable housing crisis here at home as well as across the state and country.”

OCLW’s living wage roster includes public, private, and nonprofit employers based in Carrboro, Chapel Hill, Hillsborough, and the throughout the county.  To qualify as a living wage employer in 2020, all full- and part-time employees must earn at least $14.90 an hour, or $13.40 for those paying at least half the cost of health insurance. Exemptions include interns, minors working part-time, probationary employees and apprentices, seasonal and project-based employees, and contract employees.

Our most recent count of OCLW-certified employers has reached 186! The newest additions to our roster include: Wellsport Bodyworks; Milltown Family Dentistry; Gates Management & Realty; Catherine French Design, LLC; Hillsborough Pediatric Dentistry; Pam Herndon – State Farm Agency; Second Family Foundation; Santosha Space Yoga & Massage; University Presbyterian Church; Boer Brothers HVAC; Nugget Comfort, LLC; and Public Impact, LLC.

You can find the most up-to-date roster of our certified employers here. Keep them in mind as you’re out and about or looking for local services, and continue to support them as you can!

Living wage employers rang in some big honors at the 5th Annual Business Excellence Awards, which the Chamber for a Greater Chapel Hill-Carrboro (the Chamber) hosted on Friday, May 17. The BEAs are an annual gala celebration of local employers’ good practices, awarded in ten categories. We’re thrilled that four of this year’s winners are certified living wage employers! Kimberly Jeffs, Co-Owner of NC Center for Resiliency, was named Business Woman of the Year. Durham Tech, which has an Orange County campus, received this year’s Community Impact Award. School of Rock Chapel Hill was named Best New Business of the Year. Finally, Chapel Hill-Carrboro Meals on Wheels was named Non-Profit of the Year.

Several other OCLW-certified employers were nominated for BEAs, including Carol Woods Retirement Community (Large Business of the Year), FIT4MOM Chapel Hill (Micro-Enterprise Business of the Year), Orange Literacy (Non-Profit of the Year), Dr. Louise Metz of Mosaic Comprehensive Care (Business Woman of the Year), and Amy Rosso of FIT4MOM Chapel Hill (Chapel Hill Young Professional of the Year).

Congratulations to all, and thank you for all you do!

Beau Catering, a Hillsborough-based catering service owned by longtime living wage advocate Beau Bennett, has just celebrated its tenth anniversary. We recently spoke with Marissa Erickson, Catering Manager, on the importance of living wages in Beau Catering’s business model, and on how she believes that the early implementation of a living wage has led to the business’ overall success and sustainability throughout the past decade.

The catering industry, like much of the service industry in general, can be difficult for workers because of irregular hours, intermittent busy seasons, and difficult labor involved. For these reasons, Erickson explained, “[a living wage] is something we’ve always had in place, even before it was a buzzword.” Bennett, a veteran of the food industry, wanted to make sure that his staff are adequately compensated for their hard work when he started his business. Now an OCLW-certified employer, Beau Catering continues to make payment of living wages part of its philosophy.

Erickson described becoming a living wage employer as a “mindful decision” on the part of management, one that is not always financially easy to stick to in the food service industry, but is possible and ultimately very rewarding. She outlined the benefits of being a living wage employer as two-pronged. First, she said, “You have the ‘feel-good’: you’re paying people what they’re owed and you’re there to enable people to live their lives.” On a practical level, living wages have also made Beau Catering more sustainable: “You save money in the end, because you’re retaining staff, saving prep time that might be taken up training new servers.” She added that nearly half of Beau Catering’s staff has been with the business for at least seven years, and that customers like seeing familiar faces at events over the years.

Erickson advises any food service businesses looking to pay living wages to adopt the payment policy early, create a “real” budget based on actual staff and food costs, and remind themselves that being a living wage employer is “like a being in a long-term relationship: it’s not always easy, but it can bring you a lot of contentment.”

The federal minimum wage has remained unchanged at $7.25 per hour since 2009, an amount that is simply not enough for workers in today’s economy. In the face of an unchanged federal wage, state and local governments, along with independent businesses that include big corporations, are raising wages to meet their own higher standards. This week, Connecticut became the 7th state in the nation – and the 4th state just this year – to implement a $15/hour minimum wage, to be phased in by 2023. Connecticut joins California, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Washington, D.C. with its legislation for a phased-in $15/hour minimum wage by 2025. Recent analyses suggest that, when state- and city-level wage hikes are taken into account, the effective minimum wage in the United States is currently almost $12/hour.

Some large corporations have also acknowledged the need for higher hourly wages, in some cases raising minimum wages to attract people to jobs that may otherwise be undesirable due to low pay or the nature of the work itself. Notably, Bank of America and Google have announced higher pay for tellers and temporary workers, respectively. And while it has not agreed to a raise hike per se, McDonald’s will no longer lobby against minimum wage hikes.

Abigail Disney, the granddaughter of the founder of the Walt Disney Company, has also spoken out recently on income inequality in her family’s company.

On Tuesday, March 19, North Carolina lawmakers joined Raising Wages NC — a coalition of workers groups, advocates, business, and faith leaders — to introduce legislation that gradually raises the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2024.  House Bill 366, “Raising Wages for NC Workers,” would also end the subminimum wage for persons with disabilities and phase it out for tipped workers. It would now cover agricultural and domestic workers, two groups that have historically been excluded from wage protections.  About a third of workers in North Carolina currently earn less than federal poverty-level wages, which is the second-worst in the nation.

The federal minimum wage, currently $7.25 an hour, has not changed in 10 years.  The federal minimum wage for tipped workers — $2.13 an hour — has not changed since 1991.  21 states, along with Washington, D.C., will see raises in their minimum wages this year.

We’ve now certified 180 living wage employers in Orange County, and several more are in the pipeline.  The newest additions to our roster include Sofia’s Boutique,  Greene Hunt Inc., Berkshire Chapel HillSuperior Home ManagementHuman Kindness FoundationYouth Community ProjectWellsport Bodyworks, and Actual Size Builders.  12 employers also met our criteria for recertification so far this year, which they can apply for every two years after their initial living wage certification.  You can find the most up-to-date roster of our certified employers here.  Let’s continue to support them as our community grows!

Living wage-certified employers earned some well-deserved recognition at the Hillsborough/Orange County Chamber of Commerce’s 2019 Gala and Awards Ceremony, held on March, 2019.  Tiffany Barber, owner of Hillsborough Pharmacy & Nutrition, won the 2018 Small Business Person of the Year Award.  She was nominated by peer members of the Hillsborough/Orange County Chamber of Commerce.  Barber says the award came as a surprise when we visited her shortly after she won, but early in our conversation it was obvious how much she cares about her workers and creating a more just economy.  Since she opened the pharmacy, she has prioritized paying her employees a living wage so they can, in her words, “live happy and healthy lives”. She didn’t want her employees to worry about having to take on a second job to have a higher income, and also wanted to avoid some of the unhappiness and high turnover she saw while working for years in a big chain before opening her pharmacy.“I want my employees to be like family,” she said.  “They’re part of the community, and small businesses are all about community.  We have to treat workers appropriately.” We think so too.

Congratulations also to Ronda Tucker, Director of the living wage-certified Burwell School Historic Site in Hillsborough, for winning the 2018 Helping Hand Award.  OCLW’s Certification Coordinator, Rachel Mehalek, was also nominated for the award. Thank you for all you do!