It costs $11.20 an hour for someone to live in Hall County.
Or so says the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which has been studying the “living wage” and updating its online living wage calculator since 2004.
Unlike the federal poverty level, a living wage has figured into it “a family’s likely minimum food, child care, health insurance, housing, transportation and other basic necessities (e.g. clothing, personal care items, etc.) costs,” according to MIT’s Amy Glasmeier, who created the study.
That means different things in different areas. A single person working in Hall County needs to earn $11.20 an hour to live comfortably (an annual income of $19,600 after taxes), but the same individual in New York City needs to earn at least $14.45 an hour.
In the Peach State, the Georgia Municipal Association is prodding local governments to keep statistics like the living wage in mind when they’re setting pay and benefits for new hires.
“We’ve heard over the past couple of years that it’s hard, and it’s always been difficult, but it’s harder now to recruit and retain municipal employees,” said Brian Wallace, head of strategic initiatives for GMA.
Local governments are struggling with a bit of brain drain as the economy improves in Georgia, leading their employees to venture back into the private sector for higher pay and better benefits after 10 difficult years for wages.
Looking back at the MIT calculator, it’s easy to see why people are eager for a raise, especially when children are added to the mix.
A single parent with two children needs to earn $27.52 an hour to make a living wage, according to MIT. That huge jump is caused by child care (an annual cost of almost $10,000), medical expenses and transportation.
The costs of child care are such a drain for the single parent that a two-parent, three-child household with only one working adult needs less money to get by: $27.11 an hour compared to $27.52.
But when one parent is able to watch the kids, the numbers suggest that most people in Hall County are doing all right for themselves.
The two-parent, two-child household with one working parent needs a $51,665 before-tax income to make a living wage in 2017. Hall County’s median income among all residents in 2016, when wages were lower than they are now, was $51,202.
That means a broad segment of breadwinners are making enough for their family to not only cover the basics, but the routine expenses of modern-day life.
“In Hall County, almost 50 percent of our workforce is working at either goods-producing (jobs), which mostly means manufacturing, or health care,” said Shelley Davis, a vice president of the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce.
Davis manages the chamber’s existing industry programs, including workforce development.
The typical health care worker with a degree or technical training earns $58,000 a year in Hall County, according to MIT, well above the living wage depending on the person’s family life.
Health care support positions earn much less, about $25,160, but if that worker has no dependents that would still put him or her more than $2,000 above the living wage in Hall.
“As far as the living wage, I feel comfortable saying Hall County is making the mark on that (in general),” Davis said.
As the economy continues to improve in the state and in Hall, more workers will see their wages and benefits grow. However, wage growth is currently slow nationwide as the national unemployment rate falls, bringing workers off of the sidelines. As the rate continues to fall, employers will have to compete for workers, which will drive up wages.
And as that happens, the GMA is trying to keep the public sector from being pinched for employees through a workforce development initiative.
An early example of the problem on the horizon for local governments is being seen in Georgia law enforcement.
On the grounds that it would draw deputies onto the state payroll, the Georgia Sheriff’s Association was nervous about the Georgia General Assembly’s decision, led by Gov. Nathan Deal, in January to raise the pay of state law enforcement officers.
“The state police salaries caused some concern with the cities and with the counties as well,” Wallace said, “so we’re trying to help (cities) out with what their needs are and what they can do to keep a good, solid workforce for their city.”