by Leslee Kulba
Wild West blogger
The Mountain Xpress printed a nice, long article by Hayley Benton on the Buncombe County Commissioners’ annual retreat. From it, I gather the main theme was concern that sub-living wage jobs are expensive for the county. Here are some excerpts:
“The numbers that we do know [show that] low paying jobs cost county taxpayers lots of money,” [Commissioner Ellen] Frost said. “And until we can get everyone’s head wrapped around that, we’re going to be looking at these two big things [wages and housing]. . . . It’s frustrating when our two biggest [industries] create these horrible wages that create these horrible statistics.”
[Assistant County Manager Mandy Stone] continued, “Children who complete pre-K programs are more likely to graduate high school, more likely to go to college — and more likely to make a living wage without needing government assistance.”
On to the living wage, the board discussed whether to incentivize employers who provide some high-paying or living wage jobs — while bringing in other jobs well under the living wage standard.
[Chair David] Gantt then asked, “What’s the cost of not paying a living wage?” When low-income residents require government assistance to meet their needs, is bringing in employers with half high wage jobs and half low wage jobs worth it? While he didn’t get an answer during the retreat, he requested more information on what that cost would look like.
[Commissioner Brownie] Newman asked if 25 percent of a particular employer’s jobs are “just adding to this big pool of [low wage] jobs that need public assistance,” where would the county draw the line?
Commissioner Miranda DeBruhl, a small business owner, pointed out that small business owners often have higher operation costs, and, if a business were to raise all of its employees’ wages, those costs would end up coming out of somewhere. “I just want the county to be careful,” she said.
I would add that there are alternatives to government solutions, like getting a second or third job or a roommate.* Also, the last time I looked at the household budget charts prepared for this presentation, I don’t recall seeing any portion of the colorful pies going toward taxes. I would inquire with the county, but that never, ever helps.
*As one who averages 105 hours a week to bring in a living wage, praying for miracles is my preferred strategy for maintaining my extravagant lifestyle. (Yes, I’m sub-minimum, but I doubt a majority of the commissioners think I’m worth a penny more.)