As expected, Wake County’s seven-member board of commissioners voted unanimously Monday to raise pay for all county workers to a minimum of $13.50 per hour, establishing a minimum annual salary of $28,080 per year. 75 county employees will see a pay increase, beginning next month, and it will cost the county $93,000 a year to implement the living wage.
The vote followed a press conference Monday morning, where Commissioner Matt Calabria, who has led work on the ordinance that would institute a living wage, said Wake County would be at the very top of North Carolina counties in terms of having “the most robust living wage policy.”
Calabria said the $13.50 rate was calculated using national best practices to determine what it would take to make ends meet in Wake County, based on the local cost of living. The county manager will review the living wage calculation in conjunction with the annual budget each year, and adjust it as needed.
“This county has embarked on a comprehensive plan to fight poverty and to address what it means to be poor,” he said. “We have 120,000 people living in poverty in Wake County right now. That means Wake County has more people living in poverty than 75 percent of North Carolina counties have people, period. We’re going to make sure that if we are fighting poverty, the very least we can do is make sure we aren’t responsible for it as employers.”
Some county employees who will benefit from the living wage work as attendants at Wake County animal shelters. They will see a nearly $3,5000 annual increase to their pay.
“We see turnover fairly frequently among our shelter attendants, because it’s historically been a low-paying job that requires a lot of hard work,” said Dr. Jennifer Federico, Director of Wake County Animal Services, in a statement. “A higher wage will not only help us recruit more qualified and experienced people for these positions, but it will also help us retain them, resulting in better care for our animals.”
Commissioner Sig Hutchinson said instituting a county’s living wage is an important first step towards creating an organization that can certify living wage employers, as exist in Durham and Orange Counties.
“We want to start a larger conversation with employers in the private and nonprofit sectors around what it would take to elevate their employees and staff to a living wage.”