Living Wage Local Spotlight Location: Orange County, North Carolina

Written by Dr. Amy K. Glasmeier and Ade Samuel on 10/31/2018

Living Wage: $11.83 per hour

Minimum Wage: $7.25 per hour

Orange County is one of the areas with the highest cost of living within the state of North Carolina. The county is home to almost 145,000 people and a concerted grassroots effort to promote living wage policies in the form of Orange County Living Wage. Orange County Living Wage (OCLW) is a volunteer non-profit that advocates for ethical treatment of workers in and around Orange County North Carolina. The organization focuses its efforts on leveraging consumer influence to convince businesses that providing a living wage makes sense from an ethical perspective and a commercial one as well. So far, these efforts seem to be working. With more than 140 affiliated employers who have cumulatively raised their wages by $641,000, OCLW is making impacts that can be felt throughout their community.

Formed in 2015, OCLW was modeled after a similar living wage certification program, Just Economics, based in nearby Asheville North Carolina. The group functions as an intermediary between consumers and living wage employers. Its overarching goals are to recognize employers who pay a living wage, incentivize employers to pay a living wage, and connect consumers to employers who provide a living wage for their employees. The primary means through which OCLW aims to achieve these goals is by allowing businesses within Orange County to apply for certification as living wage employers. The organization determines its living wage threshold using the Universal Living Wage calculation. This widely accepted method generates a living wage value from the full market rent value (FMR) of a one bedroom apartment in a particular area. OCLW uses five year averages of the FMR value in their calculations to account for variations in housing prices. Once applicants have been certified as living wage employers, OCLW helps these businesses advertise their status to new customers. Organizers at OCLW maintain a public list of all certified employers and provide them advertising support through social media and print campaigns. The group also advocates for “buycotts”, where customers are encouraged to support particular businesses because of their living wage policies. After two years, companies must be re-certified in order to maintain their status with OCLW.

OCLW has employed this model to begin the process of reshaping the economy in Orange County. The rapid success this diligent group of volunteers has garnered for their efforts illustrates an important point. Sweeping change doesn’t have to come from the upper echelons of the private sector or within the alabaster walls of city hall. Organized citizens are more than capable taking things into their own and making substantive improvements in their communities.