Understanding the “Living Wage” Update

HomeUnderstanding the “Living Wage” Update

Understanding the “Living Wage” Update

Understanding the “Living Wage” Update

It’s been around three years since our original article, Understanding the “Living Wage”, was published. This article continues to be very popular. Since a lot has changed since then, we wanted to give an update on the living wage in our area.

As the workforce development board serving Mecklenburg County, we know that an economy thrives when people make enough money to sustain themselves and their families. To help build a strong economy, it’s important for employers and policymakers to understand what a living wage is and how much it is in their areas.

What Is a Living Wage?

The federal poverty level has been and is still used to determine how one’s standard of living compares to how much they earn. This amount is the same across the whole country and doesn’t consider costs associated with living.

To better understand how earnings relate to the cost of living, Dr. Amy K. Glasmeier of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), created the Living Wage calculator. Instead of using the same dollar amount across all areas, this model considers all costs for an individual or family to meet their basic needs. This includes expenses from childcare, health care, transportation, etc., and varies based on location.

The simple answer to “what is a living wage” is that it’s the amount that sustains a family. It helps to think about it as a calculation rather than a number which is why you will often see living wage, Sustaining-Wage, or Family-Sustaining-Wage used interchangeably. Kevin Loux of Charlotte Works explains it in more detail in the video below. 

Mecklenburg County’s Living Wage

Our previous article mentioned how the minimum wage of $7.25 had not increased since 2009, even though the cost of living had increased by around 18%. The minimum wage has remained the same, but now the cost of living is 41% higher than in 2009 and 18% higher than when the article was published. If the minimum wage had followed the cost of living, it would be $10.19 today. In Mecklenburg County (and most places), the minimum wage has one person barely over the poverty level of $13,590 and well below the lowest living wage of $39,000 (see below).

Below is a table of the living wages for different family sizes. We’ve included the Charlotte Metro region, Mecklenburg County, and North Carolina to show how the amount can vary. The median hourly wages are also included for comparison. The bold amounts indicate where the median hourly wage is less than the living wage.

1 Adult 2 Adults (1 Working) 2 Adults (Both Working)
Region 0 Children 1 Child 2 Children 3 Children 0 Children 1 Child 2 Children 3 Children 0 Children 1 Child 2 Children 3 Children
Charlotte MSA, NC $17.70 $33.42 $42.30 $55.89 $26.32 $31.31 $36.75 $40.16 $13.09 $18.44 $23.94 $28.43
Mecklenburg County, NC $18.75 $35.33 $44.96 $59.67 $27.47 $32.47 $37.91 $41.70 $13.71 $19.39 $25.27 $30.31
North Carolina $17.14 $33.10 $42.04 $55.59 $25.81 $30.93 $36.37 $39.67 $12.90 $18.28 $23.81 $28.27


Region Median Hourly Wage
Charlotte MSA $21.75
Mecklenburg County, NC $21.81
North Carolina $18.45

As the table shows, the minimum annual salary needed for a living wage in Mecklenburg County is $39,000 (1 adult, 0 children) and the highest amount needed is $124,114 (1 adult, 3 children). For the majority of scenarios, the median wages are lower than what is required for a living wage. The minimum wage can’t even provide a living wage for one adult with no children.


For more information on the Mecklenburg County labor force, check out our Labor Market Dashboard.


By: Ryan Nelson

Data Analyst


To view the minimum wages throughout the country, visit: https://www.epi.org/minimum-wage-tracker/

Living Wage:

Charlotte MSA: https://livingwage.mit.edu/metros/16740

Mecklenburg County: https://livingwage.mit.edu/counties/37119

North Carolina: https://livingwage.mit.edu/states/37



Charlotte MSA: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_16740.htm#otherlinks

Mecklenburg County: https://censusreporter.org/data/table/?table=B19301&geo_ids=05000US37119&primary_geo_id=05000US37119

North Carolina: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_nc.htm#00-0000



Sign up for our newsletter to stay in the loop on local workforce initiatives!

Leading the development of a skilled and in-demand workforce by engaging businesses, aligning community partners, empowering and connecting job seekers to meaningful employment, and fostering inclusive economic growth.