Colorado’s minimum wage quietly went up on Jan. 1, as planned by the passage of Amendment 70 in November 2016. The second of four stepped increases the ballot measure authorized between 2016 and 2020 took the wage paid to hourly workers from $8.31 per hour in 2016 to $9.30 in 2017, and $10.20 on Jan. 1.
It will increase two more times, on Jan. 1 in 2019 and 2020, until it reaches $12 per hour. Tipped worker wages also increased from $5.29 in Jan. 2016 to $7.18 in 2018 and will top out in 2020 at $8.98. By comparison, the federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour, just over $15,000 per year ($3,000 more than the 2017 federal poverty level for a one person household). It has not changed since July 2009.
In a 2016 study by the University of Denver (http://bit.ly/2CxQmA4), researchers estimated that since low-wage workers tend to spend whatever they make (there is nothing left to save), Colorado’s wage hike to $12 by 2020 will result in a $400 million injection into the state economy and an increase in living standards for 400,000 households, half of which are families.
Amendment 70 opponents cited a study by Portland State University economist Eric Fruits who estimated that a $12 per-hour minimum wage could result in 90,000 fewer jobs. Fruits’ critics point out that the last time Colorado raised its minimum wage, by 33 percent in January 2007, from $5.15 to $6.85 per hour, the Colorado economy added 71,200 jobs in the two years following the increase. A 2014 Congressional Budget Office report estimates that a $10.10 per hour federal minimum wage would lift 900,000 families above the federal poverty line and off public assistance programs.
The Colorado Center on Law & Policy’s 2017 State of Working Colorado (http://bit.ly/2lHE6Dd), released in December, concluded that economic recovery has not been equally shared or lasting, that for most workers wages are stagnant and underemployment remains a problem.
Though changes to the federal tax code lean heavily on corporations to drive job creation, wages and the economy, there is still a considerable role for legislators, business and not-for-profit leaders to play developing policies and practices to help people achieve economic self-sufficiency and community health.