Sep 22, 2021

Charles serves as CCLP's Income and Housing Policy Director using data and research to support our efforts to stand with diverse communities across Colorado in the fight against poverty. Staff page ›

Recent articles

CCLP testifies in support of Clean Slate updates

Bethany Pray, CCLP’s Chief Legal and Policy Officer, provided testimony in support of House Bill 24-1133, Criminal Record Sealing & Expungement Changes. CCLP is in support of HB24-1133, as it is one of our priority bills.

CCLP testifies in support of TANF grant rule change

CCLP's Emeritus Advisor, Chaer Robert, provided written testimony in support of the CDHS rule on the COLA increase for TANF recipients. If the rule is adopted, the cost of living increase would go into effect on July 1, 2024.

Five takeaways for work after COVID-19

by | Sep 22, 2021

Supported by a generous grant from the ECMC Foundation, Colorado Center on Law and Policy set out to track how the experiences of unemployed Coloradans have changed since February 2020. By analyzing economic and labor force data, as well as conducting interviews with state agencies, non-profit organizations, and unemployed Coloradans, we discovered intriguing patterns of who and where the effects of the pandemic hit hardest, as well as how these effects evolved over time.

Using these discoveries as our guide, our report Ready for work after COVID-19 identifies opportunities to modernize the state’s workforce development systems, particularly as they interact with one another and with employers, to better meet the post-COVID-19 needs of unemployed Coloradans.

Here are five key takeaways you need to know:

Takeaway 1: The pandemic affected employment unequally

How an individual weathered the pandemic varied tremendously based on occupation, industry, educational attainment, flexibility of the job in working from home, and geographic location within the state. For example, we found that:

  • Rates of unemployment in April 2020 were highest among non-white Coloradans, Coloradans living in urban and tourism-dependent parts of the state (such as the Rural Resort region), and Coloradans who had previously worked in the accommodation and food services sector.
  • Coloradans with lower levels of educational attainment tended to experience higher rates of unemployment, while many Coloradans with a bachelor’s degree or more or relevant digital skills were able to work remotely from home.
  • Waiters and waitresses, retail salespersons, fast food and counter workers, and restaurant cooks were among the occupations that saw the greatest loss of jobs during the early months of the pandemic.

Based on this, it should come as no surprise that low-wage jobs saw the greatest decline in employment. As of June 2021, employment among those with annual wages below $27,000 still lagged 23.4 percent below January 2020 employment. Employment for other wages levels had by then recovered to pre-pandemic levels (or, in the case of high-wage employment, exceeded them.)

Takeaway 2: Digital access—and the ability to use it effectively—is now more important than ever

During the peak of the pandemic, many of the services unemployed Coloradans depend upon—including applying for unemployment insurance benefits–became only accessible online.

Across our state, 14.3% of Coloradans did not have access to broadband internet in their homes in 2019. 11.9% did not have access to a computer. Pre-pandemic, a household might have been able to get by without access to the internet. However, operational changes due to COVID-19—among government agencies, nonprofits, educational institutions, and private businesses—placed these Coloradans at distinct new disadvantages as operations and services moved online.

In many interviews, stakeholders noted that trends toward remote work, services and learning are unlikely to reverse in the future. This new normal highlights Colorado’s pressing need to not only expand access to computers and broadband internet to all Coloradans, but also to equip our workforce with the skills and comfort needed to work in digital environments.

Takeaway 3: Workers need help in transitioning to other industries or occupations

From the end of the Great Recession until the start of the pandemic, most job growth seen in Colorado had been in low-wage service sector jobs. The pandemic’s disproportionate impact on these jobs, however, has led pundits to frame the crisis as an “opportunity” for low-wage workers to transition to other, higher-paying industries or occupations.

However, our research shows that many Coloradans cannot do so without assistance.

For workers interested in transitioning to new jobs, knowing where to begin can itself be a challenge. Many opportunities require additional education, but workers may not have the luxury to attend. Workers looking to change occupations need options to “earn while they learn,” to earn income while attending classes or courses of training.

Many workers require preliminary preparation for the retraining opportunities themselves. Some need options beyond traditional classroom experiences. We encourage future workforce development initiatives to take these needs into account.

Takeaway 4: Unemployed workers do not just need jobs—they need “good” jobs

Based on those limitations, our report concludes that re-skilling, up-skilling, and next-skilling is simply out of reach for many Coloradans. Therefore, our research suggests that increased pressure should be placed on employers, as well as consumers, to ensure that jobs across all sectors are “good” jobs.

But what do we mean by “good” jobs?

  • Wages that allow workers to support themselves and their families
  • Benefits, including health care and paid sick leave
  • Transparent and well-defined opportunities for growth and promotion
  • Flexible and predictable scheduling
  • Safe working environments

Stakeholders indicated that their clients and participants seek jobs with these qualities, and that many are willing to stay out of the workforce as they look for the types of jobs that better balance personal and professional responsibilities, while meeting their financial needs.

As an example, several organizations and agencies reported that jobs offering reasonable options for childcare and transportation costs are vastly preferable to those without. Though the financial challenges for unemployed workers have risen as pandemic-related unemployment insurance programs have expired, the importance of practical working arrangements has also increased.

Takeaway 5: COVID-19 accelerated the structural transformations already underway

Finally, our research shows that COVID-19 has caused many ongoing trends in our economy to accelerate—shifting toward more remote work, automation, and the migration of many services to a digital environment.

Combining employment projections with different COVID-19 scenarios developed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the sectors and occupations estimated to see the greatest increases over the next ten years are also those that, on average, require greater levels of educational attainment, credentialing, or greater skills—such as knowledge of computer programing languages, or paraprofessional dental and medical skills.

For example, pre-pandemic, employment in computer and mathematical occupations was already projected to experience the fastest rate of growth over the next ten years, growing by over 20 percent. This rate only accelerates under moderate and severe COVID-19 scenarios.

On the other hand, the growth of jobs in food preparation and serving are expected to slow over the next decade. These sectors will slow or even see a net loss of jobs if COVID-19 trends continue unabated. Overall, the data suggests that the longer the pandemic continues, the fewer low-wage service opportunities we should expect to see in the future.

Findings related to these key takeaways (and more!) may be found in the full version of our report. Download the report here.

Recent articles

CCLP testifies in support of Clean Slate updates

Bethany Pray, CCLP’s Chief Legal and Policy Officer, provided testimony in support of House Bill 24-1133, Criminal Record Sealing & Expungement Changes. CCLP is in support of HB24-1133, as it is one of our priority bills.

CCLP testifies in support of TANF grant rule change

CCLP's Emeritus Advisor, Chaer Robert, provided written testimony in support of the CDHS rule on the COLA increase for TANF recipients. If the rule is adopted, the cost of living increase would go into effect on July 1, 2024.

HEALTH:
HEALTH FIRST COLORADO (MEDICAID)

To maintain health and well-being, people of all ages need access to quality health care that improves outcomes and reduces costs for the community. Health First Colorado, the state's Medicaid program, is public health insurance for low-income Coloradans who qualify. The program is funded jointly by a federal-state partnership and is administered by the Colorado Department of Health Care Policy & Financing.

Benefits of the program include behavioral health, dental services, emergency care, family planning services, hospitalization, laboratory services, maternity care, newborn care, outpatient care, prescription drugs, preventive and wellness services, primary care and rehabilitative services.

In tandem with the Affordable Care Act, Colorado expanded Medicaid eligibility in 2013 - providing hundreds of thousands of adults with incomes less than 133% FPL with health insurance for the first time increasing the health and economic well-being of these Coloradans. Most of the money for newly eligible Medicaid clients has been covered by the federal government, which will gradually decrease its contribution to 90% by 2020.

Other populations eligible for Medicaid include children, who qualify with income up to 142% FPL, pregnant women with household income under 195% FPL, and adults with dependent children with household income under 68% FPL.

Some analyses indicate that Colorado's investment in Medicaid will pay off in the long run by reducing spending on programs for the uninsured.

FOOD SECURITY:
SUPPLEMENTAL NUTRITION ASSISTANCE PROGRAM (SNAP)

Hunger, though often invisible, affects everyone. It impacts people's physical, mental and emotional health and can be a culprit of obesity, depression, acute and chronic illnesses and other preventable medical conditions. Hunger also hinders education and productivity, not only stunting a child's overall well-being and academic achievement, but consuming an adult's ability to be a focused, industrious member of society. Even those who have never worried about having enough food experience the ripple effects of hunger, which seeps into our communities and erodes our state's economy.

Community resources like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as Food Stamps, exist to ensure that families and individuals can purchase groceries, with the average benefit being about $1.40 per meal, per person.

Funding for SNAP comes from the USDA, but the administrative costs are split between local, state, and federal governments. Yet, the lack of investment in a strong, effective SNAP program impedes Colorado's progress in becoming the healthiest state in the nation and providing a better, brighter future for all. Indeed, Colorado ranks 44th in the nation for access to SNAP and lost out on more than $261 million in grocery sales due to a large access gap in SNAP enrollment.

See the Food Assistance (SNAP) Benefit Calculator to get an estimate of your eligibility for food benefits.

FOOD SECURITY:
SPECIAL SUPPLEMENTAL NUTRITION PROGRAM FOR WOMEN, INFANTS AND CHILDREN (WIC)

Every child deserves the nutritional resources needed to get a healthy start on life both inside and outside the mother's womb. In particular, good nutrition and health care is critical for establishing a strong foundation that could affect a child's future physical and mental health, academic achievement and economic productivity. Likewise, the inability to access good nutrition and health care endangers the very integrity of that foundation.

The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) provides federal grants to states for supplemental foods, health care referrals, and nutrition information for low-income pregnant, breastfeeding and non-breastfeeding postpartum women and to infants and children up to age five who are found to be at nutritional risk.

Research has shown that WIC has played an important role in improving birth outcomes and containing health care costs, resulting in longer pregnancies, fewer infant deaths, a greater likelihood of receiving prenatal care, improved infant-feeding practices, and immunization rates

Financial Security:
Colorado Works

In building a foundation for self-sufficiency, some Colorado families need some extra tools to ensure they can weather challenging financial circumstances and obtain basic resources to help them and their communities reach their potential.

Colorado Works is Colorado's Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program and provides public assistance to families in need. The Colorado Works program is designed to assist participants in becoming self-sufficient by strengthening the economic and social stability of families. The program provides monthly cash assistance and support services to eligible Colorado families.

The program is primarily funded by a federal block grant to the state. Counties also contribute about 20% of the cost.

EARLY LEARNING:
COLORADO CHILD CARE ASSISTANCE PROGRAM (CCCAP)

Child care is a must for working families. Along with ensuring that parents can work or obtain job skills training to improve their families' economic security, studies show that quality child care improves children's academic performance, career development and health outcomes.

Yet despite these proven benefits, low-income families often struggle with the cost of child care. Colorado ranks among the top 10 most expensive states in the country for center-based child care. For families with an infant, full-time enrollment at a child care center cost an average of $15,140 a year-or about three-quarters of the total income of a family of three living at the Federal Poverty Level (FPL).

The Colorado Child Care Assistance Program (CCCAP) provides child care assistance to parents who are working, searching for employment or participating in training, and parents who are enrolled in the Colorado Works Program and need child care services to support their efforts toward self-sufficiency. Most of the money for CCCAP comes from the federal Child Care and Development Fund. Each county can set their own income eligibility limit as long as it is at or above 165% of the federal poverty level and does not exceed 85% of area median income.

Unfortunately, while the need is growing, only an estimated one-quarter of all eligible children in the state are served by CCCAP. Low reimbursement rates have also resulted in fewer providers willing to accept CCCAP subsidies.