For the third year in a row, North Carolina ranks as the worst state in the nation for protecting and supporting working families, and in particular meeting the needs of working women, according to an annual study by Oxfam, the international anti-poverty organization.
The study, called the Best and Worst States to Work in America 2022, tracks 26 policies across all 50 states plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. It puts North Carolina at 52, or the worst place to work. The state, the study found, has a minimum wage stuck at the federal level of $7.25 an hour — unchanged since 2009; has no mandate for paid leave; no accommodations for pregnancy; and no sexual harassment protections.
The study examines policies that “can determine whether workers are safe at work, can afford food for a family, or whether they have a voice in the workplace.” Oregon was ranked number 1 for its worker-friendly policies.
For women, the study focused on the federal minimum tipped wage of just $2.13 an hour, unchanged in over three decades, because women are 69 percent of all tipped wage earners. Of those, 36 percent are mothers, half of whom are single mothers, according to the report.
The report said that “to have a sub-minimum tipped wage traps many women, especially single moms, in cyclical poverty.” It noted that according to the National Women’s Law Center, poverty rates are nearly 30 percent higher in states that maintain a sub-minimum tipped wage compared to those which have ended the policy altogether.
Asheville-based Just Economics, which studies wages and cost of living in western North Carolina, reported the living wage rate for Asheville metro area is $17.70 per hour (with or without health insurance). It noted that in Buncombe County, “the disparity between wages and housing costs is a major factor in the local economy and our living wage rate continues to be tied to the cost of housing.”
RentCafe, which calculates housing costs, puts the average rent in Asheville at $1,640 and average home price at $459,418, both out of reach for any minimum wage earner. It calculates that the “cost of living in Asheville, NC is 8 percent higher than the state average and 4 percent higher than the national average.”
According to Living Cost, a global crowd-sourced database that calculates costs of living worldwide, Asheville is the second-most expensive city in North Carolina after Chapel Hill, and in the top 3 percent of the most expensive cities in the world. — Barbara Durr