We’ve heard it all before.
The year was 2006, and Colorado voters were considering whether to raise the minimum wage to $6.85 over a period of years, with rates adjusted annually. (It currently stands at $8.31.) Opponents predicted massive job losses if the ballot measure passed — tens of thousands of jobs. Many Colorado newspapers opposed the measure, including this one.
What’s happened instead? Even with the downturn caused by the Great Recession, Colorado has added tens of thousands of jobs over the past decade. Doom-and-gloom prognostications of employers shedding jobs, moving out of state or laying off workers did not materialize.
Today, opponents once again predict massive job losses from a proposal to increase the minimum wage to $12 by 2020. A study conducted for the Common Sense Policy Roundtable predicts — wait for it — 90,000 jobs lost by 2020.
Sorry, but we don’t believe it. It didn’t happen in Colorado in 2006, and it hasn’t happened in other states that have phased in minimum wages higher than the federal level of $7.25.
While the jury remains out on Oregon’s shift to a $14.75 minimum in some areas ($12.50 in others), Colorado’s proposal is much more measured, at $12.
It’s also more modest than a California proposal for a $15 minimum and New York’s increase, over time, to $15.
A new Colorado rate of $12 preserves the state’s competitiveness with California, Oregon and New York, and the new rate — again, implemented over four years — will almost assuredly not result in the 90,000 lost jobs that opponents predict.
This proposal isn’t perfect — we’d prefer that the rate could go down in the event of an economic downturn, as it can under current law. We’d prefer that local conditions be considered, as is the case in Oregon.
But the fact remains that this state can absorb such an increase. Most industries that generate primary jobs pay far more than minimum wage. Demand for workers is high, whether it be construction, health care, technology — you name the sector. A relatively low percentage of the current Colorado workforce actually earns the minimum. Supporters predict that 42,000 workers will receive an increase by 2020.
But raising the minimum wage also makes the state more attractive for workers considering moving to the area. And with unemployment in the low 3 percent range, that’s a good thing.