By Alexandra Sirota
Working families in North Carolina symbolize our state’s greatest assets—the lifeblood of local economies, the engines of productivity, the attractive force that brings business to communities and delivers the promise of stability for families and communities. Our social contract promises that as long as you are willing to work, you can expect to achieve a basic quality of life.
If working families are the engines of economic growth, women provide its fuel. And yet women are more likely to earn less than what it takes to make ends meet. And that not only holds our economy back, it creates greater barriers to moving into the middle class for their children.
As it is, 1 in 5 families in North Carolina do not earn enough to afford the basic needs of everyday life, let alone plan for their future or ensure their children can do better. In North Carolina, a family of two adults and two children must earn $53,978 a year in order to afford housing, food, child care, health care, transportation, taxes, and other necessities, according to the Budget & Tax Center’s 2016 Living Income Standard (LIS). That is more than double the federal poverty threshold for a family of four.
In practical terms, this means that women have to take on multiple jobs, cut back on savings, fail to build assets to weather economic downturns, or turn to public programs to make up the difference in their household budget or reduce their investments in their own education and skills. In some cases, families postpone major expenses, such as needed car repairs; go without; or increase their debt load to finance unexpected expenses. While these strategies can help a family get by on a monthly basis, they represent a significant strain on well-being and a barrier to economic security and economic mobility.
The economic pain of recent years and the failure of the recovery to take hold across much of North Carolina is made clear in the daily gaps in a household budget when work doesn’t match the costs of the basics.
Without focused attention on policies that create quality, well-paying jobs, the promise of work for families will continue to fall short. At a minimum, the latest data on the Living Income Standard for workers in all 100 counties demonstrates that a $7.25 minimum wage at the state level is woefully inadequate to protect workers from hardship. It is long past time to raise that minimum to what is necessary to make ends meet — and that reflects what workers have contributed to the productivity of the economy.
At a fundamental level, however, it is time policymakers embrace a range of policies that support working women and ensure that their earnings better reflect the value of their economic contributions.
To find out the Living Income Standard for your county, visit here.