Triangle counties make up four of the five most expensive counties in North Carolina when it comes to meeting basic needs for a family of four, according to a report by the NC Budget & Tax Center, with median worker earnings falling short of living wage minimums across the state.
The NC Budget & Tax Center calculated the Living Income Standard for all counties in North Carolina by examining eight household necessities: food, housing, child care, health care, transportation, taxes, debt payments and miscellaneous costs.
Here is the Living Income Standard for the five most expensive counties in NC to meet basic needs for a four-person household, per the report:
Orange County: $84,120
Chatham County: $82,120
Wake County: $81,850
Durham County: $81,510
Mecklenburg County: $79,490
And this amount covers non-negotiable necessities, not enough to contribute to what would provide real economic stability, the report authors argue, such as buying a house, saving for retirement, paying college tuition and covering unexpected bills.
“I sometimes call what we produce a ‘barely living income standard,’” said Patrick McHugh, research manager at the NC Budget & Tax Center and one of the report’s authors.
“And a lot of the time, you’re looking at tradeoffs when it comes to spending,” McHugh said. “Our report breaks down monthly costs — housing, transportation and child care are big ones. … As lower and middle-income folks get pushed out of job centers to find more affordable housing, you’re going to spend more on gas to drive back into the state’s metropolitan areas for work. And if you find child care at a lower cost farther away, suddenly your transportation costs go up, as you’re spending more time on the road and putting more wear and tear on your vehicle.
“It’s hard to assign a dollar amount to ‘here’s how much you need to earn to be financially stable’ because it’s a constant sliding scale, and there’s no way around that.”
For the full report, visit ncbudget.org.
Here’s how much you need to make in Raleigh, Wake to earn a living wage
▪ Each adult in a two-parent, two-child household in Wake County needs to earn $19.75 per hour to meet the Living Income Standard, the NC Budget & Tax Center’s Wake County snapshot says.
▪ A single parent to one child needs to earn $29.75 per hour to meet this standard.
This amount looks only at immediate needs, breaking down an estimate of how much these households would spend on basic costs (food, housing, child care, etc.) per month. To put away money for a child’s college tuition, or to save money for a down payment on a home, the hourly wage would need to increase, McHugh said.
“A one-parent, one-child household in Wake needs to have $5,150 per month — we’ll say over $5,000 to make ends meet,” he said. “That means you’d need $15,000 or $20,000 in the bank if there’s a surprise layoff, or you need to chip away at medical debt. That can give you a flavor of the liquid savings you’d need to have at your disposal to weather a financial shock.”
Visit ncbudget.org/lis and filter to “Wake” to find the Living Income Standard for 2022 for four types of households in Wake County.
Here’s how much you need to make in Chapel Hill, Orange to earn a living wage
Each adult in a two-parent, two-child household in Orange County needs to earn $20.25 per hour to meet the Living Income Standard, the NC Budget & Tax Center’s Orange County snapshot says.
A single parent to one child needs to earn $30.75 per hour to meet this standard.
Visit ncbudget.org/lis and filter to “Orange” to find the Living Income Standard for 2022 for four types of households in Orange County.
Here’s how much you need to make in Durham to earn a living wage
Each adult in a two-parent, two-child household in Durham County needs to earn $19.50 per hour to meet the Living Income Standard, the NC Budget & Tax Center’s Durham County snapshot says.
A single parent to one child needs to earn $29.75 per hour to meet this standard.
Visit ncbudget.org/lis and filter to “Durham” to find the Living Income Standard for 2022 for four types of households in Durham County.
You can’t live off of NC’s minimum wage, economists say
Steven Allen, a professor of economics at NC State University’s Poole College of Management, isn’t surprised by the five most expensive counties in the NC Budget & Tax Center’s report, though he was surprised to see Chatham in the #2 spot, he said.
He’s concerned that the minimum wage in North Carolina has stayed at $7.25 since 2009, despite how inflation has hiked up everyday prices by a record-high 9.1% since last year.
“Let’s suppose you’re a single parent with two kids, compared to a single adult with no children, compared to a 19-year-old still living at home. The minimum wage tries to address all those things at once and does a terrible job,” he said. “It’s not a one-size-fits-all for everyone.”
An August report from The NC Budget & Tax Center says two parents earning median working wages still fall more than $10,000 short annually of being able to provide for three or more children in most of North Carolina’s counties.
“It’s not just folks working at minimum wage who are struggling, but it’s all the way up to the middle income distribution for working people. And it’s still over $10,000 below what a basic income looks like,” McHugh said.
Allen points to the MIT Living Wage Calculator to determine how much North Carolinians need to make to earn a living wage in different parts of the state.
The report factors in unique situations — such as having a single-income household with no children versus a dual income household with three children — to determine appropriate earnings to make a living wage.
The calculation also breaks down necessary expenses — such as food, housing, child care and taxes — depending on how many working adults and children are in a household.
For example, a single adult without children needs to earn $18.36 per hour to make a living wage in Raleigh, MIT’s Calculator says. And a single adult with three children in Raleigh needs to earn $61.47 per hour to meet that standard.
Find the report (for each of North Carolina’s counties and major metro areas) at livingwage.mit.edu.
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