No in-person Bernie Sanders, but Durham advocates still push for higher minimum wage

Michael Perchick Image
Friday, June 2, 2023
Durham advocates still push for higher minimum wage
July will mark fourteen years since the federal minimum wage, which serves as North Carolina's rate, has increased.

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- July will mark fourteen years since the federal minimum wage, which serves as North Carolina's rate, has increased. Thursday, elected leaders, advocates, and low-wage workers are calling for the rate to be more than doubled.

"It's not a livable wage. It's hard for me to be independent, it's hard for me to get my own place. I still live at home with my mother. And I don't have any kids right now or a wife, but I'm still struggling on $13 an hour, trying to make it," said Christopher Daugherty, a hotel worker who will speak at Thursday's event.

Daugherty started his new job on a part-time basis a week ago, after previously making $12 an hour at a different hotel. He's been advocating with the Union of Southern Service Workers since the beginning of the year and will speak at Thursday night's event at the Hayti Heritage Center in Durham.

"A lot of people are trying to raise their families off a minimum wage. They can't provide for their families. And when they can't provide, you know, children suffer, families suffer," said Daugherty.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, just 1.4% of hourly-paid workers earned the federal minimum wage or less. Breaking it down further, just .8% of full-time hourly workers earned that rate, with teenage workers comprising an outsized portion of minimum wage or less workers. Advocates however say the focus should be on livable wage; an analysis from MIT found for a single adult with no kids in North Carolina, the livable wage is $16.83.

"It just doesn't make any sense that we should keep wages stagnant and allow people to literally work full time and be homeless, living in their cars in the state of North Carolina. We are better than that," said Ana Pardo, the Co-Director of the Workers' Rights Project at the North Carolina Justice Center.

Using the Bureau of Labor Statistics inflation calculator, the $7.25 minimum wage, when enacted in July 2009, would be worth $10.21 in April 2023. Pardo said even though the number of workers making the federal minimum is comparatively small, policy change would have a wider effect.

"An estimated 1.3 million working North Carolinians would benefit from an increase to the minimum wage and see an average raise every year of $3,264. It would have ripple effects that go up the pay scale and so even folks who are already making what would be considered a livable wage will be positively impacted by raising the wage. For when you raise the bottom, you raise all boats and so it's something that quite literally benefits everybody in the state," said Pardo, citing an unpublished analysis by the Economic Policy Institute for the North Carolina Justice Center.

Legislative efforts on a statewide level to introduce a $15 minimum wage have stalled this session. In Durham County, elected officials are taking steps to try and ease rising costs.

"The county is investing in 300 and 500 East Main Street to build affordable housing around our parking decks. We're investing in public school to make sure folks have greater opportunities for higher paying jobs," explained Commissioner Nida Allam.

Allam, who ran for Congress in 2022, also pointed to efforts to improve public transportation.

"We as Commissioners are also working on our transit plan to make sure transit is accessible. But we're getting these jobs, we're getting housing. We need to make sure all of it is accessible. And public transportation is what closes that gap for individuals," said Allam.

While Durham, like much of the Triangle, has seen widescale economic development during the past several years, spurred by large-scale jobs announcements, both Allam and Pardo expressed concerns about that momentum continuing if the city is unable to provide greater opportunities for lower-wage workers.

"How many restaurants have you passed in the last year that can't find employees, can't keep workers to staff their kitchens It's a problem in every major city in the state right now because people are getting pushed out. The folks who support the restaurant industry the folks who support the tourism and hospitality industries in cities like Raleigh and Durham and Charlotte and Asheville and Wilmington are getting pushed further and further out," said Pardo.

"Our society wouldn't function without service workers, without care workers. And that means that we need to be able to make spaces where all of our workers are able to live and thrive and be a part of the communities that they contribute to every single day. And that means paying a living wage," said Allam.

Sen. Bernie Sanders was set to attend in person but addressed the crowd virtually because of the debt ceiling vote. The Rev. William Barber and Allam spoke alongside Daugherty during the event Thursday evening at the Hayti Heritage Center.