Low-wage workers don’t fare as well
Colorado’s economy not all it’s cracked up to be, especially to some
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.”