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New economic report shows conditions improving in Colorado, but not for all

December 22, 2016 Updated: December 22, 2016 at 5:03 pm

Colorado's workforce might be back on its feet, with many earning more than they did before the national economy crumbled in 2008, but plenty of Coloradans are still stumbling, according to a new "State of Working Colorado 2016" report by The Colorado Center on Law and Policy.

Since 2007, the state has picked up nearly 271,000 jobs, a little less than the entire population of Weld County, and last year the median household income inched back above the pre-recession paychecks, $63,900.

"Unfortunately, once you scratch the surface of these seemingly positive numbers, it's apparent that our state's economy isn't working for many Coloradans," said Claire Levy, the center's executive director and a former state representative from Boulder.

More Coloradans now face stagnant wages, jobs that pay less than before, income gaps with the continually rising costs of living, and poverty that disproportionately leaves minority workers further behind, the report states.

Interestingly, as fewer people participate in the labor force, the "most prominently missing" demographic is men ages 25-to-54, according to the law and policy center.

"Labor-force participation among men of color rose more quickly than for white men during the economic recovery," the center states. "Those who experience long-term unemployment are more likely than those who experience short-term unemployment to drop out of the labor market."

According to the center, the report also finds:

- Race-based economic disparities remain a persistent problem in Colorado. By 2050, 48 percent of the state's labor force will consist of people of color - primarily Latino. Median household income among Latino households increased by 9 percent between 2007 and 2015 but still lags significantly behind white median household income. In 2015, Latino median income was $46,000 or 65 percent of the White median income of $70,500.

- The median hourly wage has fallen or remained flat since the recovery began in 2010. Economic gains are increasingly concentrated among a small share of high earners in the state. Meanwhile, a growing number of jobs pay less than what's needed to support the health and well-being of most Coloradans. In 2000, an estimated 10 percent of jobs paid less than the self-sufficiency wage. By contrast, that number more than doubled to nearly 21 percent of jobs in 2015. Also in 2015, the median hourly wage in Colorado was $18.49 - still below the 2007 median wage of $19.32.

- Job growth isn't keeping up with Colorado's population growth. As of September 2016, Colorado's economy had 2.62 million jobs. But to keep up with the state's rapid population growth, Colorado needs to create nearly 118,000 additional jobs or an average of 7,500 jobs a month over the next three years to return to pre-recession employment levels.

- Involuntary part-time workers remain above historic levels. Though the share of involuntary part-time workers has dropped steadily since 2010, 15.4 percent of part-time workers said they would prefer a full-time job. That's still slightly above the pre-recession level.

- A significant number of Coloradans lives in poverty. The report shows that more than one in four households in Colorado can't meet their basic needs without public or private support. Additionally, an estimated 294,000 Coloradans live in "deep poverty." Deep poverty was defined as $5,885 per year for an individual and $10,045 for a family of three last year.

Colorado voters in November approved a minimum-wage hike from $8.31 to $9.30 on Jan. 1 with additional automatic increases to $10.20 in 2018, $11.10 in 2019 and $12 in 2020.

Levy said in a statement it was good step forward.

"While Colorado has come a long way since the recession, too many Colorado families still struggle to pay rent or cover their other basic needs," she stated.

"I'm encouraged that Colorado voters recognized that wages are too low and voted to increase the minimum wage, but this report shows there's much more work to be done. We hope the 'State of Working Colorado' will spur a dialogue between workers, employers and policymakers on how to give Coloradans the tools they need to reach their human potential so everyone can contribute fully to our economy."

Incoming House Speaker Crisanta Duran said Wednesday one of her top priorities in the next session would be "finding ways to create an economy that works for everyone." In the last two sessions the Denver Democrat has led packages of training and jobs bills called "Ready to Work" and "Ready to Work 2.0."

This year she will work on legislation to encourage training for computer software jobs and other sectors of good-paying high-tech industry.

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