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  • Writer's pictureericjcarrig

Pay people enough to afford rent and transportation and watch productivity grow

Updated: Jun 11, 2023

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash


The United States is holding people back as long as we don’t figure out a way to provide people with the opportunity to build and manage profitable households, which means we earn enough money to pay f

or rent or a mortgage, transportation or access to it, groceries, and bills to keep us comfortable.

Solutions for the Underaffiliated spoke with Vicki Meath, Executive Director of Just Economics in Asheville, North Carolina about living wages and better worker conditions, affordable housing, and better public transportation.

Here are the highlights! Listen to the conversation.


  • Advocate for wages that allow people to afford housing, food and transportation.

    • Insufficient wages are associated with crime, poor health, drug abuse and alcoholism. All of these make our society more expensive and less safe.

    • If a job doesn’t pay enough, employees may seek a second one. An employee with two jobs is likely to be less productive at both because they lack sleep, but have more stress as they try to manage a household and care for kids.

    • Employees who can pay their bills — and even for a few unnecessary items — are likely to be more productive. Employers are likely to experience less turnover and reduced recruiting and training costs because people will not look for a new job.

    • More productive workers can develop and build new products faster to expand — grow to new markets. They can improve efficiency and identify ways to reduce costs through more efficient processes.

  • Identify and support groups that can work to impact pay and wage laws

    • Ask city, county and state governments to pay their employees a wage that allows them afford a home in a safe environment, transportation and food — the basics.

    • Search for and shop at employers which have living wage certifications like Just Economics’ program that recognizes local employers for paying a living wage and encourages consumers to buy goods and services from them.

    • Advocate for organized labor. Companies have every right to set their compensation. Unions may need to be improved, but how else are workers — or anyone — going to achieve fair wages and benefits to offset the high cost of living?

Affordable Housing with Public Transportation

  • Repurpose old buildings and infrastructure for affordable housing.

    • There is generally resistance to in-town affordable housing development, preferring to build on new land.

    • Removing a few old trees and repurposing or replacing a few old mansions seems better than clearing a mountainside, forest, or field for a new housing development and laying down roads, parking lots for the stores we want, and the infrastructure to support it.

    • To reduce congestion and pollution around urban affordable housing, ensure residents have access to public transportation.

    • When people don’t have to drive, congestion and carbon emissions decline.

    • The alternative is more sprawl and degradation of the environment, more traffic because people must drive farther to get to their jobs. That requires more expenses for transportation, which drives down household profit.

  • Take a “greater good” approach instead of a not in my backyard mentality (NIMBY)

    • Overcome fear of “those people,” your home value, and traffic.

    • Encourage the private sector to be more engaged in building affordable housing, but move beyond incentives, stop caving to their interests, and explore consequences for not supporting the greater good.

User-informed planning

  • City planners and politicians should go beyond public comment and ask for input via focus groups, surveys and social media.

  • Organizations like Just Economics unlock the creativity and needs of the people who would benefit most from affordable housing and public transportation.

    • Example: Worked with potential affordable housing applicants to develop a centralized rental application, so people no longer had to file multiple times and pay multiple application fees.

    • Example: Surveyed citizens and found that they wanted frequency and reliability issues fixed. The city revised plans and offered Sunday service and extended hours.

    • Such feedback typically produces a solution more likely to benefit a broader range of people, which leads to greater satisfaction with new plans, business, and government.

    • Businesses do this kind of thing in the form of user-experience and market research.

The Solutions for the Under-affiliated Take

Let’s enable all Americans to achieve their goals by providing them with opportunities to earn an income that allows them to pay for housing, transportation and necessary goods and services — like food — without going into excessive credit card debt.

Insufficient wages, affordable housing, and public transportation are three examples of why so many of our fellow Americans operate their households at a loss. When you are barely eating, behind on bills or going into debt, you are unhappy and less productive. Crime, trauma, and substance abuse increases.

When you can only afford to live far from work, traffic and pollution get worse — more traffic means more carbon in the sky — while natural habitat continues to be cleared and cities become ghost towns replaced by more sprawling concrete jungles.

That has a negative impact on business productivity and satisfaction with politicians and government — the American way of life.

Sure. Increasing wages can drive up expenses potentially hurting profits. Affordable housing in urban areas could negatively impact home values and increase crime and congestion.

If more people have money left over after paying for housing, transportation and basic needs, productivity increases and peace-of-mind spreads. That can lead to less turnover and absenteeism and lower recruiting and development costs.

If affordable housing comes with appropriate maintenance rules, public transportation, and zoning for new stores, property values will be fine. Crime will not be a problem.

We have outlined some ways to increase all of our productivity by reducing the financial and psychological stress created by insufficient wages, high rent and mortgages, and limited public transportation.

But what is the obligation of real estate developers and owners and business executives to ensure all Americans have a living wage, affordable housing, and public transportation?

Should policies be developed to hold them accountable for rising crime, drug use, environmental degradation, homelessness and other social drivers of health because of their practices?

What do we want to do about a way of life that drives up the cost of living, so we can’t afford to be our best?

The next steps are up to you.


We recognize that the high cost of health care also impacts people’s ability to live a quality life. However, healthcare was not part of our discussion. It will be in future episodes of Solutions for the Underaffiliated.

Another challenge that contributes to the insufficient wages, affordable housing ad public transportation is that city and county leaders and teams often don’t align nor work together.

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