Gap between Asheville living cost and income

Roy Inkidar
Sports Writer
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Photographed by Roy Inkidar
Thomas Toler, a sophomore at UNC Asheville, voices his concerns about Asheville’s economic circumstances.

The imbalance between the minimum wage in North Carolina and the cost of living is causing an uproar from the community as they struggle to support themselves in times of an economic fall. Students at UNC Asheville spoke their minds regarding this conflict and the effort it takes to keep their life financially stable.
UNCA Sophomore Mason Black said for students like himself, living comfortably while on Asheville’s minimum wage proves difficult.
“I am from Old Fort, which is right down the mountain. It is part of McDowell County, which has one of the lowest costs of living in the state and $7.25 is not enough there. I think people expecting it to be enough in Asheville is ridiculous,” Black said.
Black said it is challenging for students to pay off their tuition and living costs considering they mostly work for close to minimum wage.
“I believe students are usually expected to work for closer to minimum wage than other people and it is not feasible or sustainable to try and pay for tuition and living expenses on that level of age,” he said.
Aliyah Aguilar, a UNCA junior who works on campus, said balancing work life with school work to support herself comes with much stress.
“That is pretty messed up. Right now the student union or at least students on campus are trying to work toward reaching administration because the cost of living is increasing and we’re not getting paid enough money to even take care of ourselves. It is a never ending cycle of work, work, work, trying to get money to live and pay school expenses on top of that. We can’t even get the education part complete,” Aguilar said.
Aguilar said the homeless situation in Asheville is worse than that of her hometown.
“Eventually, it is going to lead to more poverty. People are going to live on the streets. I’m from Charlotte and I believe there are more homeless people that I’ve seen in Asheville compared to Charlotte. Charlotte is a bigger city and I feel like the cities should be more expensive than living in places like Asheville,” Aguilar said.
A junior at UNCA, Cameron Sharp, said a balance between the minimum wage and the average cost of living is required.
“My thoughts are that the minimum wage should always be kept in constant equilibrium with the average cost of living. So to keep it in a state where anybody who is working should be able to afford an enjoyable life rather than having to compromise overwhelmingly just to survive and try to work their way up the ladder that is unevenly balanced against them,” Sharp said.
UNCA sophomore Thomas Toler said these economic disparities create struggles in society and for students.
“I think that it is important that minimum wage stays with inflation, but unfortunately these days it doesn’t because it has become such a political issue, it has become divided. This is especially difficult as the cost of living goes up and the cost of general necessities is starting to go up. It can be extremely difficult, particularly for someone who is having to balance school and work. They are most likely going to get part-time jobs at places that offer close to minimum wage,” Toler said.
On the other hand, UNCA Assistant Professor of Economics Sam Kim said many businesses in Asheville pay more than the minimum wage, meaning a large number of workers work for more than $7.25 an hour.
“Not many people work for the minimum wage. I hired a research assistant and I pay more than the minimum wage, so minimum wage can not be a good indicator for low-income earners. If you look at workers at McDonald’s, they pay $13 to $14 an hour. Target pays $15 an hour, which is double the minimum wage. When you say minimum wage is not growing but inflation is growing, I’m not sure about that. I need the numbers of the average income of the Asheville resident. Not many people pay or receive minimum wage,” Kim said.
Additionally, Kim said Asheville’s location in North Carolina factors into the city’s higher inflation rate.
“Why does Asheville have a higher inflation rate compared to other North Carolina cities and others nationwide? First, we have to look at this geographically. Asheville is surrounded by mountains, which means to deliver food, the cost of the transactions are higher than other locations. In Atlanta for example, it’s quite flat and it’s accessible to other places such as big airports, so transactions and delivery costs are cheaper. However, here in Asheville, it is very expensive unless we grow something in Asheville and consume it locally,”  Kim said.
According to Kim, the relationship between supply and demand is unevenly balanced in Asheville compared to other cities due to geographical considerations.
“Rent fees and housing prices in Asheville are extremely expensive. Our housing market cannot expand because of the mountains, so supply is not growing at the same speed as the demand. Take Houston for example. A lot of people are moving into Houston. The house prices are not going up because when there is a lot of demand, the construction company builds houses,” Kim said.
Kim also said Asheville is a prominent spot of attraction to retirees and tourists.
“Think about it, what kind of people are moving to Asheville? Asheville is one of the best places to retire. A lot of retirees choose to come to Asheville, which means they already know the housing prices are high but they continue to choose to come here because they have money. A lot of people here have a lot of purchasing power, they have the power to buy. Therefore, demand is growing faster than supply. And we locally do not produce a lot compared to other cities. Also, we are well-known for tourism too. Tourists come here to spend money and so they boost inflation too,” Kim said.
Lastly, Kim said that at the moment the economic situation is difficult to judge due to labor shortage and the effect of this on students.
“Right now we have a labor shortage issue, which means it is hard to hire workers at even $13 an hour, which is almost double the minimum wage. So right now, I am not sure how it is applicable. For students, they need to also take care of student loans, and the problem is not every major gives you a good job. Right now student loans in the U.S are more common than credit card loans. There is no quick fix for that, the government may have to do something although they contribute to that. However, individually, we can make financially more responsible decisions,” Kim said.