No Matter My Salary, I Always Feel Poor

Minimum wage latina worker living povertyI’ve learned a universal truth over the years. You spend what you make. I remember just barely scraping by in my entry-level job as a news reporter 15 years ago. After three years in that position, I tripled my salary with a move and promotion. Even then, I still felt like I was just scraping by.

The reality is that living is expensive and many of us work hard to meet our needs, wants, and our “perceived” needs, as in “I just have to have a smart phone.” We might always feel in a bit of a pinch, always feel like we could use some more money in our paycheck, but the bottom line is: there are things we can cut back on. I validated that when I quit a “glamorous” news job and cut my salary in half. All of the sudden, I didn’t NEED the $200 cut and color (but boy, was I happier).

Thousands of people have nothing left on which they can cut back. They can’t afford basic needs like food and shelter because they’re not being paid a living wage. There’s a wave of change gaining momentum in North Carolina to change that.

This week the Durham People’s Alliance is launching the Durham Living Wage Project. The effort will work to encourage companies to pay their employees a living wage, which in Durham is calculated by the City and County as $12.33 per hour for 2015.

To be honest, I can’t imagine being able to afford to support myself and a child on $18 an hour, and I definitely don’t think it could be done on $7. The fact is it’s not. Nearly one in five Durham residents live in poverty and over half of the renters cannot afford fair market rent for a two-bedroom apartment.

The issue of a wage deficit isn’t unique to Durham, NC. The problem exists all over the state and the country. Several years ago a group in Asheville formed to initiate change in Western North Carolina. Just Economics works with local businesses to educate them on the benefits of paying a living wage, and “certifies” those businesses that meet the criteria. I can tell you first hand, as an Asheville resident, that Just Economics single-handedly has changed the perspective of the Asheville community. I have people in my circle who will not do business with a company that doesn’t have the “Living Wage Certified” logo on their door or website. I personally would rather pay slightly more at a restaurant if I know the people serving my food can afford to feed their family.

The Durham Living Wage Project is modeled after Just Economics. They are currently accepting applications from employers to get certified. Based on economic data, this could benefit the entire community. Low-income earners tend to spend a larger portion of their earnings in the local economy, which in turn stimulates growth. The estimated GDP impact of raising the minimum wage in North Carolina to $10.10 would be approximately $1.3 billion dollars.

So my message – spread the word. The dialogue around sustainable economic growth should include the words “living wage.” Place yourself in a minimum wage earner’s shoes, if you’re not one yourself. Most of us want the dignity of supporting ourselves and our family. It’s everyone’s responsibility to make that a possibility.




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