3 Ways to Boost Pay for Colorado Workers

This Labor Day, Colorado workers have many things to celebrate. Our economy is strong and continues to add jobs at an impressive rate. Our unemployment has been under 3 percent for 21 consecutive months. A larger share of Colorado workers over age 16 are in the workforce than in all but three other states (MN, ND, UT) and the District of Columbia.

One area not worth shouting about? The pay Colorado workers get for these jobs. Average hourly wages were up 4.1 percent in July over last year, going from $27.65 to $28.77 per hour. That sounds good until you consider increasing costs for things like rent, gasoline, and health care eat into these gains.

Average rental costs throughout Colorado were up 3.4 percent in the first quarter of 2018 compared to the same period in 2017. Average gas prices throughout Colorado are up almost 20 percent over last Labor Day, and health insurance costs on the individual market are up 32 percent. Economists at the Legislative Council project overall consumer prices will increase by 3.1 percent in 2018.

Both nationally and in Colorado, we have seen gains in low-wage occupations have been stronger than others, due in large part to the minimum wage increases adopted in Colorado and other states. As Jason Furman, President Obama’s chief economist argues, we can build on this success by pursuing policies that would boost pay for Colorado workers throughout the wage scale.

Here are three proposals policymakers should enact to boost wages in Colorado:

Remove Colorado’s Ban on Local Minimum Wage Increases

Raising the minimum wage to $12.00 per hour by 2020 is good for Colorado overall, but certain areas have higher costs of living and workers need to earn more to make ends meet. Current law bans local minimum wages higher than the state minimum wage; we should remove this ban and give local governments the ability to set minimum wage standards that best meet the needs of their communities. Over 40 cities and counties throughout the U.S. have raised their local minimum wages in recent years.

Ensure Equal Pay for Equal Work

Colorado women earn, on average, 81 cents for every dollar earned by men. Women of color earn substantially less. Ensuring women earn equal pay for equal work means a Colorado woman could pay for eight months of child care, nearly seven months of rent, and more than half a year of college tuition. Colorado’s Pay Equity Commission identified many of the root causes of the pay gap and laid out actions to address it. In addition, policymakers could prevent employers from asking about salary history and mandate government contractors and suppliers implement equal pay standards.

Raise the Threshold for Earning Overtime Pay

Colorado’s salaried workers automatically qualify for overtime pay if they earn below a certain amount. However, this threshold has not been fully adjusted for inflation since 1975. Policymakers should increase the threshold to reflect inflation, making over 327,000 Colorado salaried workers automatically eligible for overtime pay at time and one half. This will put extra pay in their pockets, helping them get ahead and add a boost to our economy.

Raising the minimum wage has boosted the pay for workers in traditionally low-wage jobs without hurting job growth. We can apply the same principle of adopting commonsense policies to boost the wages of Colorado workers in other parts of our economy.

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