The minimum wage is so low in North Carolina that a single mom would need to work 80 hours across four jobs to cover the basic costs of a family of four.
North Carolina’s $7.25 minimum wage, poor unemployment benefits, and lack of worker protections landed it dead-last on a recent ranking of the best and worst places to work in the United States conducted by Oxfam, a nonprofit fighting poverty.
The best place to work in the country? Oregon. Go figure.
Why did the Old North State rank so abysmally? Surely, a state that routinely rakes in high rankings on “best places to live” lists can’t be treating its workers like garbage, right?
But that’s precisely what’s happening. Beyond legalizing a poverty wage (compounded by rising housing costs), North Carolina provides workers with few protections, including zero accommodations for pregnant workers, no paid family leave, and no state laws protecting victims of sexual harassment. Existing “right to work” laws suppress the state’s labor unions, which are prohibited for public sector employees, meaning teachers are unable to collectively bargain for better pay or benefits.
And North Carolina is far from alone: regionally, the Southeast ranked far behind the rest of the country in terms of working conditions. The West Coast, New England, and Mideast ranked closely at the top while The Plains, Rocky Mountains, Southwest, and Great Lakes scored somewhere in the middle.
The study evaluated states based on three factors: wages, worker protections, and the right to organize.
So what are states like Oregon doing right? For starters, Oregon’s minimum wage is $12.75. While that may sound good, it’s still only about 36 percent of what it costs to support a family of four. Tipped employees also receive $12.75 an hour.
Worker protections include paid family leave, protections for workplace breastfeeding, protections for farm and domestic workers, and equal pay mandates across gender and race. Public workers can unionize and collectively bargain, and workers challenging wage theft are protected from retaliation.
Basically, everything North Carolina doesn’t do.
Let’s be more like Oregon, k? (Legalizing weed would be nice, too.)
Support independent local journalism. Join the INDY Press Club to help us keep fearless watchdog reporting and essential arts and culture coverage viable in the Triangle.