Focusing on Colorado’s Future: What Our New Leaders Must Do

Watching so many inspiring and progressive candidates get a chance to put their stamp on our wonderful state by winning on Election Night was exciting, but winning an election is only the beginning. Now is the time to get things done to help Coloradans thrive.

Below are important issues that need the attention of the incoming legislature and governor. Some of these will require a long-time horizon, and some can start Day 1. Regardless, they all should be priorities so we can help everyone in our state get ahead and stay ahead economically.

How to Approach the Future of Work

Over the next decade, automation is projected to disrupt the jobs currently held by almost 500,000 Coloradans. Beyond that, the contingency economy, with its emphasis on freelancers and independent contractors, continues to grow at a high rate. Keeping technology’s impact on how we work and learn front of mind means Colorado can have a real opportunity to lead the way on the economy of tomorrow.

Related: The Future of Work: Implications for Colorado Women

Two things in this area that should be at the top Colorado’s agenda:

  • Portable benefits: Right now, most social benefits are modeled on increasingly outmoded employee-employer relationship. With so many of today’s workers not classified as classic employees, more of us don’t have access to important social insurances, such as health insurance, retirement savings, paid family and medical leave, unemployment benefits. When benefits are portable, they are tied to the individual. That means when workers change jobs, or work multiple jobs, their follow them. The result is less burden for businesses and more economic freedom for workers in economic transition.
  • Convene stakeholders to study policy solutions for contingent workers: There should be a commission — with some power to propose policies — comprised of labor interests, business interests, government interests, and economists to explore the changing needs of the workforce and what basic protections should be afforded for every worker. This group should also provide guidance on how to properly classify employees and workers. The commission would be involved in examining new data related to workforce and demographic change in the state.

More Consumer Protections

The passage of Proposition 111, capping payday loan rates, was an important step forward on behalf of consumers, but there’s more to be done. Because the federal government, and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) specifically, has prioritized protecting business and industry in lieu of consumers, Colorado should form a Department of Consumer Protection with a sole focus of giving consumers a one-stop shop to understand rights and remedies, as well as giving consumer protection enforcement a bigger focus, would be a great step for Colorado.

Student loan debt has risen considerably — since 2000, student debt in Colorado for an in-state public four-year university has ballooned by 85 percent. While some of this is a result of an active choice to shift tuition cost from the state to students, some is also the result of significant predatory practices by student loan servicers and for-profit colleges. By regulating these student loan servicers, Colorado could vastly improve the transparency around student loan practices and repayment plans. While it historically has been up to the federal government to police bad actors in the student loan servicer industry, the current administration, led by the CFPB and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, has made a conscious decision to allow the industry to practice with impunity. Navient, the largest student loan servicer in the country, is currently being sued by 1.5 million borrowers for adding $4 billion to the costs of their loans. This type of practice needs to be eradicated, and Colorado can take a big step forward by ensuring proper oversight through regulation.

Make Child Care More Affordable

A recent study commissioned by the Bell Policy Center from CU Denver shows over 80 percent of middle class families have both parents working. That means affordable child care has become a necessity for the middle class. But child care costs are rising, just like everything else, while wages have only slightly budged over the past decade. This combination has stressed too many Coloradans’ budgets, and the incoming administration needs to put this issue on the front burner going forward.

Some ideas are:

  • Raise the income level for child care tax credits: While the legislature made real progress last session by raising the upper bounds of who is eligible for child care tax credits, they did not go high enough. They should continue raising the income level for tax credits and make sure that other tax credits related to children are made permanent.
  • Implement CCCAP reforms: The administration needs to prioritize reforming the Colorado Child Care Assistance Program (CCCAP), the largest source of state child care assistance, and implement the ongoing reforms. For example, there was significant progress last year, especially in terms of mitigating the cliff effect. This is when families make slightly too much money to qualify for subsidization, but don’t have enough money to pay for the full cost of child care on their own. It’s crucial for the incoming administration to effectively implement these reforms and do more to increase awareness around the program.
  • Scale promising local efforts to increase child care affordability: Local communities like the Denver and Summit County have created new subsidies and resources for child care investment. Colorado should help other communities replicate these efforts. Child care provider compensation rates merit particular attention by communities. We should be using localities as laboratories for the best ideas to increase child care affordability.

Long-Term Care & Aging

Approximately 1 million baby boomers are projected to retire from the workforce by 2030. These changes will have real effects for our state’s economy and workforce. To prepare, one area Colorado should focus on is our long-term care system. Some important aspects to keep in mind:

  • Allow older adults to age in their own communities by supporting direct care workers: As opposed to going to a skilled or assisted living facility, it should be common practice to allow adults to age in home. It’s also much more cost effective, for both the older adult and the state, if these individuals age in place. One of the biggest impediments is the low pay and turnover for the direct care workforce. To partially remedy that, the state should increase Medicaid reimbursement rates and ensure those increases are directly passed to the workers.
  • Support unpaid caregivers: Nearly 1 in 10 Coloradans provide unpaid care to an adult aged 50 and older. As a state, we must do more to support these caregivers who provide an important service for their family and neighbors. Working on an administrative level to bring attention to these issues and help our aging population will relieve stress on Coloradans and their caregivers.

Looking at Policies Through a Two-Generation Lens

Two-generation approaches to economic security put the well-being of the entire family at the center of economic mobility strategies. These strategies focus on asking new questions, identifying intersecting systems, and breaking down silos.

A good example of the ongoing work around two-generation strategies is through the Strengthening Working Families Initiative (SWFI) at Denver and Aurora Community Colleges. Federal grants have helped these community colleges provide adult education while ensuring early childhood education for children. Students who are parents can receive training and accreditation for jobs in health care, information technology, or advanced manufacturing — three growing fields in need of educated workers that also pay family-supporting wages — while knowing their children are learning in a quality environment. This specific example is an encouraging model of how these strategies can work and our state should look to this, and others, as ways to help multiple generations thrive economically.

Any policy or initiative put forward needs to be looked at through a two-generation lens to better understand whether the proposal will help entire families or leave out a generation, leading to hardship in other ways.

Bottom Line

The top line numbers on our state’s economy are enviable, but there’s plenty we must do to make sure all Coloradans feel it. The encouraging part is we know the problems and have some good ideas about the solutions. States across the country have taken action in various ways to alleviate the problems plaguing lower and middle classes. Colorado can do it, too. Now is the time for clear and decisive action to help all Coloradans. We hope the new elected officials and their teams are listening and ready to work for Coloradans.