Bumps in min­i­mum wage com­ing to Colorado’s low-pay work­ers

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Aldo Svaldi

Colorado’s min­i­mum wage will take its big­gest leap in a decade on Sun­day, bring­ing with it sig­nif­i­cant changes for both low-wage work­ers and their em­ploy­ers.

Ef­fec­tive Jan. 1, the state’s min­i­mum wage will bump up from $8.31 to $9.30 an hour, fol­low­ing pas­sage in Novem­ber of Amend­ment 70, which lifts the min­i­mum wage in an­nual steps to $12 an hour by 2020.

The ini­tial in­crease will run 11.9 per­cent, with the over­all in­crease through 2020 at 44.4 per­cent. The tipped wage, im­por­tant at restau­rants, will rise even more, up 18.9 per­cent the first year from $5.29 to $6.28 an hour and reach­ing $8.98 by 2020, a 69.75 per­cent to­tal in­crease.

Nine­teen states will ring in the year with an in­crease in the min­i­mum wage. Mas­sachusetts and Wash­ing­ton state will have the high­est new min­i­mum wages in the coun­try, at $11 per hour.

For work­ers strug­gling at the bot­tom of the pay scale, those kind of raises can prove life al­ter­ing. But they also re­quire em­ploy­ers to carve out space in their op­er­at­ing bud­gets to cover the higher wages. Some may be un­able.

“I am very ex­cited about this op­por­tu­nity. It will help me make rent and make the bills,” said Jonathan Kenworthy, who moved from In­di­anapo­lis to Grand Junc­tion with his wife three years ago.

Kenworthy makes the min­i­mum wage as a driver for a lo­cal pizza chain and just over $9 an hour as a cook. He knows his driv­ing wages will go up, but he doesn’t know if his cook­ing wages will rise to $9.30 an hour or match the over­all per­cent­age in­crease.

What­ever the bump in pay, it will help fi­nan­cially, said Kenworthy, who makes a small stipend singing in lo­cal mu­si­cal pro­duc­tions and hosts karaoke events with his wife to make ends meet.

De­spite the stereo­type that min­i­mum-wage work­ers are teenagers earn­ing pocket money, Kenworthy, 32, said many col­lege-ed­u­cated mil­len­ni­als like him­self are strug­gling to get by on wages at or near the min­i­mum.

“We es­ti­mated that the in­crease would ef­fect 480,000 work­ers across the state di­rectly and in­di­rectly,” said Michelle Web­ster, man­ager of re­search and pol­icy anal­y­sis at the Colorado Cen­ter on Law and Pol­icy.

That’s be­cause as the min­i­mum wage rises, it puts up­ward pres­sure on the wages just above it. And the higher wages go, the more in­cen­tive adults now sit­ting on the side­lines will have to re­turn to the la­bor force, Web­ster said.

Back in 2006, vot­ers passed an ini­tia­tive that lifted the state min­i­mum wage from $5.15 an hour to $6.85, a whop­ping 33 per­cent in­crease. The siz­able leap fol­lowed nearly a decade de­void of in­creases.

Op­po­nents of Amend­ment 70 ar­gued that the min­i­mum wage since 2007 has ad­justed for in­fla­tion, un­like in pre­vi­ous years, and pointed out that ru­ral economies and small busi­nesses on the edge of prof­itabil­ity could get hurt the most.

“Two restau­rants that I spoke with are lay­ing off some em­ploy­ees. Many are rais­ing prices. Some are dis­cussing chang­ing the way that they work so that their cooks in­ter­act more with cus­tomers – thus mak­ing them eli­gi­ble to par­tic­i­pate in a le­gal tip pool,” said So­nia Riggs, pres­i­dent and CEO of the Colorado Restau­rant As­so­ci­a­tion.

Servers and bar­tenders, of­ten the high­est­paid work­ers when tips are fac­tored into pay, are re­ceiv­ing the high­est per­cent­age pay raises. Man­agers are look­ing at ways to bring cooks and dish­wash­ers into the tip pool, to help re­cruit and re­tain them, she said.

Liz Funk, la­bor stan­dards ad­min­is­tra­tor with the state’s De­part­ment of La­bor and Em­ploy­ment, said em­ploy­ers are aware of the new wage stan­dard. Most of their calls, she said, con­cern re­quests for up­dated wage posters that em­ploy­ers must dis­play in the work­place.

“There is broad aware­ness be­cause the amend­ment passed this year. It re­ceived a lot of at­ten­tion,” she said.

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