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Buncombe County living wage increases to $22.10 an hour, nonprofit says

Asheville City Hall.
City of Asheville
Asheville City Hall.

The living wage rate in Buncombe County for 2024 has risen to $22.10 an hour, according to the local nonprofit Just Economics WNC.

The figure marks a nearly 10 percent increase compared with 2023. The change is being driven by the soaring cost of housing in the region, the group’s executive director, Vicki Meath, said in a statement.

“We understand that rising labor costs put a strain on local employers, and we also know that the rising cost of housing makes it increasingly challenging for workers to secure an affordable place to live in the region,” Meath said. “We believe that a living wage must be rooted in a worker’s ability to live in the region.”

The $22.10 figure represents the minimum wage that would allow an individual working full-time to qualify to rent a one-bedroom apartment in Buncombe County. The new rate represents an annual salary of $42,520.

The rate has risen rapidly in recent years, from $17.70 in 2022 to $20.10 last year. In Western North Carolina’s rural counties outside Buncombe, the living wage is $16.40 an hour, according to Just Economics WNC.

While nearly two dozen states raised their minimum wage on Jan. 1, North Carolina was not among them. The minimum wage in North Carolina currently stands at $7.25 an hour, the same as the federal minimum wage. That rate was set by federal authorities in 2009.

In recent years, housing costs have exploded in Western North Carolina, particularly in Buncombe County.

A 2021 study by Bowen National Research for Dogwood Health Trust showed that nearly half of Buncombe County renters were “cost-burdened,” meaning that tenants are paying more than 30 percent of their income toward housing costs. Nearly 20 percent of Buncombe renters were “severe cost-burdened,” meaning more than 50 percent of their income goes toward housing.

Felicia Sonmez is a reporter covering growth and development for Blue Ridge Public Radio.