Low-wage work­ers don’t fare as well

Colorado’s econ­omy not all it’s cracked up to be, es­pe­cially to some

The Denver Post - - BUSINESS - By Aldo Svaldi

Few states have done bet­ter than Colorado in adding jobs since the re­ces­sion ended. The of­fi­cial un­em­ploy­ment rate, at 3.2 per­cent in Novem­ber, is back to lows last seen in the tech and tele­com boom days of the early 2000s.

Along with the Pa­cific North­west, north­ern Cal­i­for­nia and ur­ban Texas, the north­ern Front Range re­mains a pre­ferred des­ti­na­tion for em­ploy­ers and work­ers alike. That’s the “glass is half full” view. Now for the half empty take. Colorado isn’t adding enough jobs to keep pace with strong pop­u­la­tion gains. And com­pound­ing mat­ters, the state’s me­dian hourly wage has re­mained flat since 2009 de­spite a jump in liv­ing costs, ac­cord­ing to the State of Work­ing Colorado, an an­nual re­port from the Colorado Cen­ter on Law & Pol­icy.

Low-pay­ing jobs are likely caus­ing thou­sands of work­ing-age adults, es­pe­cially men, to dis­en­gage from the work­force. The share of Colorado men age 25 to 54 em­ployed re­cov­ered only to 87.6 per­cent in 2015, be­low the 91.7 per­cent em­ployed in 2007, the study found. In the 1950s, about 98 per­cent of men in that age range worked.

“The na­ture of our econ­omy in Colorado has changed such that the well-pay­ing jobs that don’t re­quire a col­lege de­gree are shrink­ing. The jobs that are avail­able aren’t at­trac­tive,” said Michelle Web­ster, man­ager of re­search and pol­icy anal­y­sis at CCLP.

To keep pace with its rapid pop­u­la­tion growth and re-en­gage those side­lined work­ers, Colorado needs to add 118,000 jobs a year, or 7,500 jobs a month on av­er­age, over the next three years.

Colorado’s econ­omy is ex­pected to add around 63,500 net jobs next year, ac­cord­ing to the Colorado Busi­ness Eco­nomic Out­look from the Univer­sity of Colorado Boul­der.

And many of those jobs likely won’t pay enough to cover the much higher liv­ing costs that have fol­lowed in­ad­e­quate new home and apart­ment con­struc­tion, given job and pop­u­la­tion gains.

Back in 2000, about one in 10 jobs in the state didn’t pay a wage high enough to al­low a sin­gle adult to meet ba­sic liv­ing costs. Last year, the study es­ti­mates 21 per­cent of jobs in the state didn’t pay a wage high enough to al­low a work­ing adult to re­main self-suf­fi­cient.

“Peo­ple hear the Colorado econ­omy is

ro­bust and grow­ing, but they aren’t feel­ing it. They are feel­ing the pres­sure of pay­ing the rent,” Web­ster said.

The study ar­gues the Colorado la­bor market has much more slack than what an un­em­ploy­ment rate in the low 3 per­cent range would sug­gest.

The CCLP, which ad­vo­cates for low-wage work­ers, sup­ported lift­ing the min­i­mum wage from $8.31 an hour to $12 an hour by 2020, which Colorado vot­ers ap­proved in Novem­ber. It also backs stronger worker pro­tec­tions, such as restor­ing worker bar­gain­ing rights, and a higher pay thresh­old be­fore work­ers are ex­empt from over­time pay, which a judge in Texas blocked.

Web­ster said young adults need guid­ance to­ward fields where la­bor short­ages ex­ist, such as skilled con­struc­tion trades and tech­nol­ogy.

“The pur­pose of this re­port is to tell a broader story, to fo­cus on what is hap­pen­ing on the lower end of the in­come spec­trum,” Web­ster said. “And un­for­tu­nately, it is not a pretty pic­ture.”

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