State of Working Colorado 2010 executive summary
This is an executive summary. Read the full, 60-page report here.
The past 10 years have been ones of turmoil and contradiction for Colorado and its workers. The decade that began and ended with recession saw economic growth and above-average earnings — yet the prosperity was not spread evenly. At a time when education became increasingly paramount, Colorado held a highly educated workforce but saw troubling trends in how it educates its own kids. And while the recession at the end of the decade sent poverty and unemployment to historic highs, relative to the nation as a whole Colorado continued to be a leader.
The State of Working Colorado aims to unravel those contradictions as it explores the plight of workers in Colorado. The report examines jobs, unemployment, income, wages, poverty and health insurance from the beginning to the end of the decade. It looks both at long-term trends and recent developments. It adopts the long view and the close-up to assess how Colorado workers have fared in the past 10 years, where they stand and where they are headed. The results pose hard questions for workers and policymakers about the kind of jobs, economic security, and lifestyle the future Colorado will promote, and about the kind of investments needed to attain that future. A few of the key findings:
Employment: At the end of 2010, Colorado had 40,000 fewer jobs than in 2000, despite having almost 900,000 more residents. The 2007 recession was largely behind that decline, eliminating 141,000 jobs, or 6 percent of the Colorado labor force.
Unemployment: Colorado ended the decade with its highest unemployment rate in 28 years. However, Colorado’s unemployment is on par with the rest of the country, and recent increases are partially a result of Coloradans resuming the job search.
Income and wages: Colorado’s median income is higher than the national average. However, income has been stagnant, and Coloradans end the decade with the same median household income they started the decade with, despite gains in productivity.
Poverty: Poverty in Colorado increased throughout the decade, though it remains less severe here than in the nation as a whole. In the wake of the recession, more than one-quarter of Coloradans live with incomes of less than 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Level — a cutoff many experts use as a realistic assessment of modern human needs.
Health care: A shrinking share of Coloradans is able to secure private health insurance, and 16 percent of residents are uninsured. However, during the recession the share of uninsured remained stable thanks to public health insurance programs.
Government is equipped to take on problems the private sector and free market are unwilling or unable to solve. History shows bold public investments are a sound economic strategy for broader growth. Those lessons hold especially true during tough economic times. However, in the words of the Opportunity Agenda, “Policies that focus only generally on job creation are likely to allow existing disparities to persist and, if not addressed, potentially worsen. An economic recovery that leaves whole groups behind is not sustainable and violates the core American values of opportunity and mobility for all. American principles of equity have real-world consequences for us all – a recovery that doesn’t include middle-class families lacks long-term stability.”1
The State of Working Colorado offers a detailed list of policy recommendations which would move Colorado toward achieving its economic goals and fulfilling its societal promises. While the menu of solutions below is not exhaustive, it does much to ensure Colorado leads its workers and families toward secure and prosperous futures. Without such action on the part of leaders and policymakers, the state may well start the new decade with the kind of tenuous progress and stagnation that dominated the past 10 years.
Reinforce the unemployment insurance safety net for workers
- Ensure the solvency of the unemployment trust fund while protecting Colorado’s unemployed.
- Protect the modernizations made in the Unemployment Insurance safety net.
Improve working conditions in the state
- Steward and enhance union presence in the state.
- Require paid sick days or family leave for all jobs.
Close the pay gap for women and people of color2
- Require EEO-1 reporting for all employers.
- Enforce pay equity laws, including allowing workers the right to share wage information.
- Improve access to higher education and job training for low-wage workers.
Attenuate growing income inequality with a graduated state income tax
Sustain tax aid for needy families
- Restore the state Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and make it permanent.
- Expand and make permanent the refundable federal tax provisions included in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
Remove barriers to vital services for families
- Conduct a functional assessment of the Colorado Benefits Management System.
- Identify and address technological and operational problems with CBMS.
- Continue work to reduce administrative barriers to programs through reduction of paperwork and implementation of efficiencies like data matching.
- Institute auto-enrollment or express-lane enrollment.
Reduce the high cost of being poor
- Support low-income consumer access to affordable financial services.
- Align Colorado policies with federal policies to promote more livable communities through sustainable surface transportation programs.
- Push for reauthorized and expanded federal work support programs, such as Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF).
- Ask Congress to restore TANF allocations to funding levels passed in the Recovery Act.
Increase access to programs that serve low-income people
- Work to remove administrative barriers to child care assistance programs.
- Expand access to the Food Stamp Program
- Expand access to affordable, quality health care.
- Maximize insurance coverage by eliminating barriers to public program enrollment, and reach out to those who are eligible but not enrolled.
Capitalize on opportunities presented by state and federal health reform
- Make Colorado’s Health Insurance Exchange accessible, fair and efficient.
- Allow families to stay with the same care provider(s) as their income changes.
- Design a comprehensive Medicaid benefits package for those newly-eligible for Medicaid under the federal Affordable Care Act.
The decade that began and ended in recession was one of great turmoil. The Great Recession has raised unemployment to historic heights, and with it poverty, enrollment in food programs, and reliance on public health coverage have increased dramatically. Pain has been widespread, but all have not been hurt equally. Amidst the crisis, minorities, women, and the less-educated have been hit disproportionately hard. More than ever, gains from the state’s economic progress are going exclusively to the wealthiest. Yet the recent downturn only perpetuated and in some cases deepened troubling divisions among Colorado’s workers.
Prompted by crisis, Colorado will need to chart its course for the decade to come, moving either to reinforce past divisions, or to forge ahead on new terms. The state has many advantages in this struggle. Throughout the recession, Colorado has managed lower levels of unemployment and poverty than the nation. It retains a highly-educated workforce, and promotes incomes well above the norm. And it supports better-than average uninsurance rates, and boasts continued productivity gains.
To build on these advantages, Colorado will need to renew its commitment to its workers and their prosperity. It will need to ask difficult questions about its wiliness to pay for roads, schools, and the public structures that move the state and its workers forward. And it will need to invest prudently to build a future that supports justice, economic security, and a bright future for all Coloradans.
The State of Working Colorado is a publication of the Colorado Fiscal Policy Institute, a project of the Colorado Center on Law and Policy. To read the complete report and other publications analyzing jobs and economic security in Colorado, visit www.cclponline.org. The mission of the Colorado Center on Law and Policy is justice and economic security for all Coloradans.
Contact: Alec Harris
303-573-5669, ext. 316
Released March 7, 2011
1 “Expanding Opportunity for All: Promoting Equitable and Sustainable Job Creation,” The Opportunity Agenda, Sept. 29, 2010.
2 For more on this issue, see: “Fulfilling the Promise: Closing the Pay Gap for Women and Minorities in Colorado,” Colorado Pay Equity Commission (Presented to the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment), March 2008.