Routt unaffected by wage hike; Lowest paid employees in county make more than minimum
By Jack Weinstein
Steamboat Springs – The increase of Colorado's minimum wage won't impact workers in Routt County, Yampa Valley Partners Executive Director Kate Nowak said Monday.
Starting Saturday, the state's minimum wage work force saw an increase of 11 cents to its hourly earnings, bringing them to $7.36. The state's minimum wage in 2010 actually was $7.24, but because the federal minimum wage of $7.25 was higher, it took precedence. The minimum wage for tipped employees increased to $4.34 an hour from $4.22.
Nowak oversees the organization that produces the Community Indicators Project, which evaluates social, economic, civic and environmental trends in Northwest Colorado. According to second quarter 2010 data from the Colorado Department of Labor, Nowak said workers employed in the county's food service industry and at drinking establishments – the lowest earning industry sector – made $9.43 an hour.
She added that the average wage for statewide employees who work in food service or at drinking establishments was $7.65, based on the same Department of Labor data.
Nowak said the hourly wage in the county was based on the per-week earnings of $377 those workers brought in. But Nowak acknowledged that not all local workers employed in food service or at drinking establishments were full-time, year-round employees.
Still, Nowak said there aren't a lot of minimum wage jobs in the county.
"I know for a fact that my son used to get more than minimum wage at Taco Bell," she said. "I don't think we'll see a huge impact on minimum wage earners in Routt County. We get paid more than that."
Brian Bradbury, an employment specialist with the Steamboat Springs branch of the Colorado Workforce Center, said Monday that no minimum wage jobs were being advertised in the county. Bradbury said there are some minimum wage jobs available locally from time to time, but most are higher paying.
"I'd say 95 percent are above minimum wage," he said. "We have a mixture of everything. It just depends on the season and economy."
There are, however, some minimum wage jobs available in the Yampa Valley. Linda Dill, a labor and employment specialist with the Craig branch of the Colorado Workforce Center, said there were some job listings for livestock workers at minimum wage. But like Routt County, Dill said most jobs in Moffat County pay more than minimum wage.
While the minimum wage increase won't benefit workers in the valley, Rich Jones, director of policy and research for The Bell Policy Center in Denver, said many of Colorado's nearly 57,000 minimum wage workers would benefit.
Jones said that 11-cent increase amounted to an additional $228 for full-time, year-round workers. He said for people at that income level every dollar counts, but that wasn't the only important thing.
"The thing to keep in mind is it allows minimum wage workers not to lose ground with inflation," he said.
Colorado was the only state to decrease minimum wage in 2010, Jones said. He added that Colorado was the only state to decrease the pay rate since minimum wage was established in 1938. He said legislation passed in 2006 allows the state to change minimum wage based on inflation and deflation.
Jones said for 2011, the minimum wage rate was increased equal to prices in the consumer index. He said a worker making minimum wage would earn just more than $15,000 a year, above the self-sufficiency standard in most parts of the state.
Nowak said the self-sufficiency standard – the amount of money it takes for a person or family to pay for their expenses – in the county is $22,361 for a single person. She said that equals $10.59 an hour. So while local workers won't benefit from the minimum wage increase, some still are struggling to pay the bills.