Colorado Divided on Amendment 70: The Push to Raise Minimum Wage

Amendment 70 would increase minimum wage from $8.31 to $12 an hour. Currently, Colorado’s minimum wage is $1.06 above the federal requirement of $7.25 per hour.

After 2020, annual adjustments would be made in Colorado to account for inflated costs of living. The bill also ensures that no more than $3.02 in tip income can be used to offset the minimum wage.

A vote “yes” supports the movement to raise the minimum wage. Annual increases of 90 cents would be implemented until it reaches the full $12 in 2020. A vote “no” opposes the initiative and would keep the current minimum wage as is. Thus far, a Magellan Strategies Poll indicates that over 50 percent of voters are in favor of the initiative.

Economic spending patterns of low-income households suggest that these individuals are more likely to spend their money once earned. Therefore, with a 44 percent increase in income for those making at or slightly above minimum wage, Colorado’s economy would experience rapid growth. The ballot summary lists the following occupations as most likely to paid minimum wage: retail salespeople, food service workers, childcare workers, janitors, and home health aides.

Many of these jobs are filled by workers age 16 and older in the United States, accounting for 58.5 percent of all wage and salary workers. A recent study by The Bell Policy Center found that in Colorado, “minimum wage workers are primarily adult women working fulltime; many have children. Although raising the minimum age would benefit both men and women, it would disproportionately impact women. Women account for 48 percent of the labor force in Colorado, yet are 55 percent of workers whose incomes would rise by increasing the minimum wage”.

21-year-old Olivia Knight is a senior at CU who is currently working to pay off student loans. According to Knight, “my job at the Rio (Grande) doesn’t pay near what I need to pay off the tens of thousands of dollars in student loans I’m accumulating. It will take me years to pay them off with what I’m making. I’m enrolled in 18 credits this semester and have barely anytime between school and work, so getting another job is out of the question”.

Like many others who make minimum wage, Knight is struggling to afford even basic needs due to Colorado’s escalating cost of living. Particularly for tipped workers, the minimum wage hike would raise their income by 70 percent from $5.96 to $8.98 per hour. Given this information, restaurant owners represent some of the strongest opponents to the amendment.

The Colorado Restaurant Association has funded conservative campaign group, Keep Colorado Working, in order to aid their efforts to kill the bill. Amendment 70 would most heavily impact the overhead costs of the food industry, forcing restaurant owners to charge a service fee to every bill in order to stay in business.

Chef Ado of Ado’s Kitchen & Bar on The Hill says “an increase in minimum wage would hurt me as the owner of a restaurant that’s up and coming. Right now my profit margins are slim to none. If Colorado were to raise minimum wage, I would be forced to limit my already small staff which could potentially mean I couldn’t afford to stay here (in Boulder)”.

Keep Colorado Working argues that increasing the minimum age “may actually hurt the very employees that the higher wage is meant to help. If Amendment 70 passes, some workers earning the minimum wage may face layoffs, reduced hours, or fewer benefits. Also, workers seeking minimum wage employment may have a harder time finding work if businesses make fewer minimum wage jobs available”.

In opposition, Colorado Families for a Fair Wage backs the initiative with the support of nearly 300 businesses across the state. Colorado Families for a Fair Wage is “a coalition of small business owners, community partners, working families, and faith organizations working together to help build a fair economy for all Coloradans”.

So far, Colorado Families for Fair Wage financial support outweighs that raised by Keep Colorado Working 3:1. The proponents have gained $5.35 million versus $1.72 million earned by the opponents. The partisan divide on the issue remains steep, with 83 percent of Democrats, 60 percent of independents and 24 percent of Republicans supporting Amendment 70.

The last time Colorado has experienced a wage hike was in 2006. After the election that year, Colorado adopted an amendment to the state constitution that raised the minimum wage to $6.85 an hour on January 1, 2007. The amendment, otherwise known as Initiative 42, required the new minimum wage to be reevaluated annually in order to adjust for inflation, as measured by the Colorado Consumer Price Index (CPI).

Together with The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, the CPI sets the states minimum wage each January. This year, the minimum wage is set at $8.31 per hour for most workers. Per Colorado law, cities cannot choose to establish a higher minimum wage than the state. If Amendment 70 were to pass, minimum wage would be set to $9.30 in 2017.

The last day to submit your vote is November 8, 2016. For more information regarding where to find your closest polling place and ballot drop-off site, visit http://justvotecolorado.org. Any further information on either campaign groups can be found on their websites, https://keepcoloradoworking.com and http://www.coloradofamiliesforafairwage.org. Get out there and let your voice be heard!

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