NC: Make Wages Reflect the Cost of Living

NC Make Wages Reflect the Cost of Living

The North Carolina Justice Center is partnering with mission-driven organizations like Women AdvaNCe to help ensure that living, working, and raising a family in North Carolina are dignified, supported experiences. Together, we are working to secure four main accommodations to benefit North Carolina residents: 1) Paid Sick and Safe Days, 2) Paid Family Medical and Parental Leave, 3) Pregnancy Accommodations, and 4) Living Wages.


In North Carolina and around the country, it has become brutally apparent that wages have not increased to reflect the cost of living. Women AdvaNCe examined one measure of living – the cost of housing – in comparison to North Carolina’s working class’s wages and accumulated earnings. 

Per the 2021 census data, the median household income in North Carolina was $56,642. The minimum wage in North Carolina, however, is $7.25 per hour, where it has remained since 2008. At this rate, a full time employee making minimum wage will earn $290 per week, and $15,080 per year.

Type of EarningsYearly IncomeMonthly Income30% of Monthly Income
Median Household $56,642$4,720$1,416
Individual Minimum Wage $15,080$1,257$377

For reference, a household is considered to be “housing burdened” if they need to spend more than 30% of their monthly income on housing. And although this “30% Rule” does not apply to every type of household, it is a good rule of thumb.

This means that the typical North Carolinian family can reasonably afford a monthly housing payment (mortgage or rent) of $1,416. On the other hand, a typical minimum wage earner can afford a monthly housing payment (mortgage or rent) of $377. For comparison, these are the market rate monthly rents for different housing units in North Carolina’s three most populous metropolitan areas, according to HUD:

Metropolitan AreaStudio1-Bedroom2-Bedroom3-Bedroom

Of note, the average renter pays $402 per month in other housing costs, resulting in corrected cost projections as:

Metropolitan AreaStudio1-bedroom2-bedroom3-bedroom

According to this data, the typical North Carolinian family could reasonably afford a 2-bedroom apartment in the Greensboro area and a 1-bedroom apartment in the Charlotte or Raleigh area without being considered “housing burdened.” On the other hand, there is absolutely no market-rate apartment that a minimum-wage earner could afford without being considered “severely housing burdened.” 

An employee for the City of Charlotte, who preferred to remain anonymous, spoke with Women AdvaNCe about the financial strain that state employees living in Charlotte experience: “I know that a lot of people in Charlotte who make the minimum city wage are not able to afford housing. Most of the people I know just figure out how to make it work.”

Oftentimes, “making it work” means directing funds away from other important needs – like nutritious food, health care and insurance, tuition, or retirement funds – into payment for housing alone. Needless to say, this is outrageous. All wages should reflect the cost of a reasonable living in a an employee’s place of work.


North Carolina – stop forcing workers to decide between necessities due to unfair pay. Make wages reflect the cost of living.

Emma Hergenrother is from Ridgefield, CT. She is excited to be currently living in Durham, NC, and contributed to Women AdvaNCe as a Research Fellow. Earning her Bachelor’s from Princeton University, Emma majored in religion with a focus on the relationship between religious attitudes, theological beliefs, and environmentalism. Since graduation, Emma has worked for an affordable housing nonprofit in Connecticut, and is currently studying to become a physician with a focus on pediatric health. In her free time, Emma enjoys cooking with her partner, going for long walks, and diving into her latest audiobook.

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