Just before sounds of the lunchtime rush started to echo throughout the timbers of York City's historic Central Market, a local farmer readied his organic products for sale.
The three days a week David Dietz spends inside the downtown hub are among the 60 hours a week he works as both manager of the Dietz Produce stand in the middle of the market and an organic farmer at his family's Hellam Township farm.
Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows the average hourly wage in York County is $20.65, but the 41-year-old Dietz said he earns well below that.
Long hours and the labor of farming yield less than minimum wage, he said, but it's a passion he can't walk away from.
"I really love it. I love the land," Dietz said.
But living on less than $7.25 an hour comes with its share of challenges.
Dietz is one of many local workers who have had to reconcile stagnant wages with the rising cost of living. Federal statistics show wage increases simply aren't keeping up. The county's average wage since 2002 has increased by 1 percent or less per year. The cost of living during that time span has increase by at least 1.5 percent every year but one.
While local wages remain stagnant, workers like Dietz have watched costs pinch their personal budgets.
"I buy my own health insurance, and it's been going up pretty rapidly," he said.
Much like his medical expenses, his shelter costs have been a strain.
"Even though I rent a house from my parents, and they don't charge me much, housing is still one of my bigger expenses," Dietz said.
Luckily, his business is growing, he said, but he's still had to make adjustments to balance low wages with higher expenses.
"I try to be more organized and efficient with my time. It's one of the biggest
ways I've cut costs," Dietz said.
But tough times haven't cut his spirit; he's still confident about the future.
"The outlook is pretty good. I think farmers are optimistic by nature," Dietz said.
Cutting costs: Timothy Trimmer, a laid-off Harley-Davidson worker who recently purchased The Pie Shop in Central Market, isn't as upbeat.
While summer and fall sales were strong, the 53-year-old man who used to make motorcycles and now makes pies hasn't been selling as much of his sweet and savory products.
"I'm basically relying on my spouse at this point and looking for a part-time job," Trimmer said.
Though his earnings have slowed down, his bills are coming in at the same speed. To manage energy costs, he's put on more sweatshirts instead of turning up the heat. To manage rising transportation costs, he's limited his trips to the store.
"I don't make extra trips. If I forget something at the store, I go without it until the next grocery run," he said.
Affording groceries: Food is one of the hardest things for consumers to cut back on, and grocery bills have increased 1.5 to 5.9 percent at different points during the last 10 years, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
"No matter what the prices are, people still have to eat," said Darcy Romito, a 38-year-old York City resident.
She shops with coupons at Walmart to save money, but she's still paying more now than in years past, she said.
"It's about $10 just to get milk, bread and cereal," Romito said.
For her family of four, she tries to buy the healthiest food she can afford. Given special dietary needs, it can cost about $150 a week, she said.
"Whole wheat bread is better for you, but it's also a dollar more than regular old white bread," Romito said.
But she's trimmed her grocery budget as much as she can and is willing to.
"We can't go hungry," she said. "If we do without things, it can't be food."
To offset food costs, her family has eliminated all recreational activities, Romito said.
"All of our money is spent on needs, not wants. Food, gas and the house are pretty much where our money goes," she said.
Then there's fuel: It's fuel prices that have stymied the checking account of 23-year-old Chantel Evans.
"If you look at my bank statement, you'd cry if you saw how much I spent on gas every month last year," she said.
In 2002, gas was less than $1.50 a gallon. On Tuesday, it was $3.41 a gallon, and for much of 2012 it hovered just below $4 a gallon.
"That's a lot when you have a 40-minute drive to work," Evans said.
She spent about $100 a week in gas to get from her home in southern York County to a medical facility in Maryland where she works as a nurse's aide, making about $10 an hour -- a wage that hasn't increased since she took the job three years ago.
Evans earns about $20,000 a year and spends a quarter of her wages on gas.
"I spent $5,000 on gas last year. That's crazy," she said. "I'm thankful to have a job, but sometimes it feels like I pay to work."
-- Candy Woodall can also be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.