Blog: Minimum wage debate ongoing, as hourly rates rise again

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Last time I worked for minimum wage, the fast food joints were not selling their burgers for $6. It would’ve taken me several hours to earn that much.

But I was a high school kid who chose to work so I’d have more movie money and be able to pay for dates. My parents still coughed up whatever money I needed for real expenses, and I certainly wasn’t trying to pay for rent, utilities or the grocery food bill.

Others aren’t as fortunate, and many adults work for minimum wage while trying to provide for a family. For those folks, I’m glad that Colorado’s minimum wage has increased the last two years, from $8.31 to $10.20 just a few days ago.

The increase is a result of the November 2016 election that saw 55 percent of Colorado voters push through Amendment 70, which will again raise the state’s minimum wage in 2019 to $11.10, before it caps at $12 in 2020.

When I was flipping burgers and making milk shakes, making $12 an hour was beyond comprehension. A different time, yes, but increasing the state’s minimum wage by nearly $4 in four years is a bigger change than most business owners wanted, according to my unscientific survey.

Their arguments prior to the 2016 election are being heard again as the 2018 minimum wage increase brings the issue back to the forefront.

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Many small business owners insist that the minimum wage increase is hurting their company, that it’s causing them to struggle with labor costs, and that it can lead to laying off workers. The alternative, they say, is to raise prices to create more revenue in order to offset rising labor costs, and that simply passes the financial burden on to every household in the Pikes Peak region — including those low-wage workers who can least afford an increase to what they spend at the grocery store and local businesses.

Bottom line, they say it doesn’t create more disposable income for low-wage workers, which is the argument we hear from proponents of the minimum wage increase — a group that includes many small business owners.

Who is correct? Not enough data exists to make a definitive argument, says UCCS Economic Forum Director Tatiana Bailey.

Colorado is one of 18 states that raised its minimum wage on Jan. 1. Liberal economists insist that it helps put more money in the pockets of those who need it most, and thus aids that local economy.

“The more conservative economists say that the free market will take care of it,” Bailey said. “I’m in the middle.”

A study conducted by the University of Washington claims that the minimum wage increase to $15 in Seattle has been harmful to the economy and the low-wage workers it was supposed to help. A different study conducted by the University of California-Berkeley claims that the minimum wage increase in Seattle has aided the economy and benefited those workers.

Potato. Tomato.

“There is a lot of data that it’s hurt the Washington economy,” Bailey said. “They had a pretty steep increase all at once, and that’s not the way to do it. I give props to [Colorado] Governor [John] Hickenlooper for his part in doing this incrementally and when the economy is good. That gives businesses and the economy time to adjust.”

Read more about Colorado’s minimum wage increase and what local business owners and managers think in the Jan. 5 edition of the Business Journal.