Aug 31, 2018

Recent articles

Imagine a more meaningful Labor Day

by | Aug 31, 2018

On Labor Day, we celebrate the contribution of workers to our nation’s growth and prosperity. While I was growing up in my home state of Wisconsin, that meant gathering with family on my grandparent’s dairy farm, grilling brats and talking politics.

Wisconsin had long been known for its pragmatic policymaking — a laboratory for solutions that sought to both lift up workers and promote economic growth. Wisconsin lawmakers adopted the first worker’s compensation program and progressive state income tax in the nation in 1911 and embraced collective bargaining for all public employees in 1967.

Things have changed markedly in my home state. As discussed in a recent book, Wisconsin’s fall from progressive pioneer to conservative case study provides an important cautionary tale for other states. Policies like public-sector collective bargaining have been tossed aside. “Right to work” is the law of the land now in the dairy state. And, unions — the institutions that provide workers a voice in this economy — have been declining in membership and power.

These trends are playing out in various forms in states across the country. One result is that low- and middle-income families have lost substantial ground in the form of stagnant wages, eroded labor standards, and diminished bargaining power — even as the economy has grown. The share of income earned by these families has declined for decades — while the cost of living has continued to rise.

In Colorado, we are facing similar challenges to building an economy where everyone has an opportunity to thrive. We often hear about how Colorado’s economy is booming, but economic insecurity is far more pervasive for Colorado families than is suggested by our low unemployment rate and strong job-growth numbers.

As seen in our State of Working Colorado report, wage growth has been sluggish for most workers in the state, failing to keep pace with the rising cost of living. It has taken a full decade for wages to return to the pre-recession level. And since 2000, wages for low- and middle-income earners are up only 2 percent after adjusting for inflation. A growing share of available jobs in our state pay too little for even single adults to meet their basic needs—low-wage jobs accounted for about 21 percent all jobs in 2016 up from 9 percent in 2001. The growth in contingent work is also affecting Colorado families in the form of income volatility and financial insecurity. A recent poll shows that despite Colorado’s growing economy, nearly half of general election voters feel they are facing economic uncertainty or hardship.

Low- and middle-wage workers are the engines of our economy. When we pursue policies that expand Colorado’s middle class, our economy gets stronger and our communities thrive. This was the sentiment behind the Wisconsin Idea — that policymaking necessarily involves competing interests, but corporate interests should not be given an outsized voice in blocking commonsense solutions or rigging the rules against workers.

CCLP is working to bring Coloradans together on policies that lift up workers and grow our economy. We believe that efforts to promote basic job quality and strengthen collective bargaining are what’s needed to ensure Coloradans have the good wages and economic security that are the foundation of a growing economy and thriving communities — the very things we celebrate on Labor Day.

To promote basic job quality we must address eroding labor standards—those minimum obligations that employers have to their workers. This includes ensuring a fair minimum wage that allows people to afford to live in the communities where they work. Amendment 70, raising the Colorado’s minimum wage to $12 by 2020, was an important first step in 2016. But we also need to repeal the 1999 law that prohibits Colorado’s cities and towns from establishing a local minimum wage that is higher than the state minimum wage. The cost of living varies substantially across the state and communities should be able to set a higher wage if that makes sense for their local economy.

Colorado also needs to consider how we can improve the quality of low-wage jobs. This includes establishing a standard for workers to accrue paid sick days. Currently, two-thirds of low-wage workers lack access to paid sick days. For these workers, the only choices available when they get sick are to go without pay or show up at work sick and delay seeing a doctor if needed.

Colorado should also ensure that workers are paid fairly for long hours by updating the overtime pay protections. The Trump administration failed to follow through on implementing a new rule that would have updated the long-overdue overtime standard at the federal level. Colorado could step up and do this for our workers—adopting the proposed federal rule that would ensure overtime pay for workers earning up to $47,476 annually.

Finally, we believe that when working Coloradans have the freedom to organize together, they raise the wages for everyone, including women, Blacks and Latinos who too often get paid less for the same work. Higher union participation historically has translated into higher wages for both union and non-union workers. One of the most significant factors in stagnant wages for low and middle-wage workers across the country is the erosion of collective bargaining.

Corporate interests have made concerted efforts in Colorado and across the nation to convince lawmakers that adhering to these basic standards of job quality and supporting collective bargaining will stymie economic growth. We know this isn’t true. We know that we don’t have to trade robust job quality standards for economic growth. We can have both.

Our success depends on the success of those around us. Our communities thrive when everyone thrives. The Colorado way of life is for all of us – not just for the wealthy few.

– By Michelle Webster

Recent articles

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.