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Not-so-happy Labor Day: Study ranks North Carolina “worst” for working women

For the second straight year, North Carolina ranks last overall in the United States for meeting the needs of working families, and especially in 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 2021,” found that North Carolina “provides no support for workers’ rights to organize, does not exceed the federal minimum wage, and has very few worker protection policies.” In ranking North Carolina at the bottom for working women, Oxfam cited the lack of a mandate for paid leave, no accommodation for pregnancy, and no protection against sexual harassment.

Oregon topped the list of “best places to work,” which surveyed working conditions in all 50 states plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

Unlike many other states, North Carolina has not raised its minimum wage beyond the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, a level not changed since 2009, or the federal minimum tipped wage of $2.13 an hour, which has not increased in 30 years. In theory, employers of tipped wage earners are legally obligated to ensure that tipped employees earn at least the state minimum wage if tips fall short. However, the Oxfam report said, enforcement of this mandate is “paltry at best.”

Notably, women make up 69 percent of the tipped minimum wage workforce, and 36 percent of them are mothers, half of whom are single mothers, according to the report. 

Asheville-based nonprofit Just Economics, which studies wage and cost of living issues in western North Carolina, put the 2021 “living wage” for the Asheville metro area at $17.30 an hour. The figure is calculated using the Universal Living Wage Formula, which is based on a 40-hour work week, the Fair Market Rent for Asheville determined by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, and another HUD guideline that no more than 30 percent of a person’s gross monthly income should be spent on housing. 

HUD determined that the Fair Market Rent for a safe apartment in Asheville is $1,255 including utilities for a two-bedroom apartment. The statewide average for North Carolina is $919.

The 2019 Bowen Report on housing needs for the City of Asheville found that 46.8% of renters were cost burdened, meaning they spent more than 30 percent of their income on housing, and 19.4 percent were severely cost burdened, paying more than 50 percent of their income on housing. And that report was completed before the latest surge in Asheville housing prices. 

In a meeting Sept. 2, the city’s Affordable Housing Advisory Committee noted that no houses were for sale in Asheville for less than $275,000. In August 2021, the real estate company Redfin reported, Asheville home prices were up 22.1 percent compared to last year, selling for a median price of $428,000. — Barbara Durr

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