Living Wage Employment: What It Means and Why It Matters

Most of us have heard of the concept of a living wage, and are likely familiar with Living Wage Certification, at least in the abstract.  But what does that certification really mean, and why is it important?

In Asheville and the surrounding areas, the certifying entity most employers work with is Just Economics of Western North Carolina.  Just Economics began its efforts in 2000, initially focusing on securing a living wage for all city employees and then expanding into other public and private sectors of the workforce.  One of its primary goals is to offer certification to employers providing their employees with a living wage, and to increase the number of employers doing so in the region.

Of course, before an employer can provide a living wage, it has to understand what that wage is.  Per Just Economics, a living wage is “the minimum amount that a worker must earn to afford his or her basic necessities, without public or private assistance.”  In Asheville, that number is $13 per hour, or $11.50 per hour for employers offering health insurance to their employees.

That’s all well and good, and provides some obvious benefits to the employees receiving these wages.  But there are additional benefits as well, for employees, employers, and economies as a whole:

  1. Living wages are proven to increase morale and productivity while decreasing absenteeism and employee turnover rates.
  2. Small businesses paying a living wage tend to be more successful than their minimum wage counterparts, due to the aforementioned benefits and the ability to absorb the expense of higher wages through greater productivity as well as lower training and administrative costs.
  3. Consumers may be more likely to purchase products and services from businesses that are Living Wage Certified, helping to boost local economies.
  4. Employees of Living Wage Certified businesses are more able to contribute to the economic communities in which they live, and are less likely to require costly social assistance programs.  Thus they both contribute to and reduce the burden on the economy.

In Asheville, these benefits are particularly important; ours is a uniquely challenging economic community, in that its living costs are relatively high while many of its jobs are relatively low-paying service industry jobs that, in many cases, pay at or near the federal minimum wage.  By paying a living wage, employers help their employees to be self-sufficient contributors to the economy, support local business as a whole, and have a positive impact on the economic health of the region.

Natural Scapes is proud to be a Living Wage Certified employer, and to provide its employees with the resources to be self-sufficient and successful while supporting the local economy and small business climate in Asheville.  We firmly believe in the principles and ideals of Just Economics and the living wage, and look forward to watching our community grow and thrive with the proper resources.

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