Raising wages will bring better quality of life in Denver

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Throughout our time in elected office, we’ve worked with each other as well as city partners and the community to address the cost of living challenges faced by Denver residents — especially on affordable housing, but also on access to food, healthcare and transportation. But incomes have not kept up with the rising cost of living here in Denver or nationally, increasing the pressure on working families more and more each year.

Income inequality and economic insecurity is one of the single largest issue facing Denver residents. It is felt when single moms have to pick up an extra job to pay for what one used to cover. It is choosing between healthy food for your family or paying for your medicine. It is choosing between paying the rent on time or fixing the car that takes you to work. Fair wages are central to ensuring Denver remains inclusive and affordable for everyone. And a livable wage is critical to ensuring greater racial and gender equity in our city: More than half of all Latinx residents who live and work in Denver, and 38% of African-Americans, are earning less than $15.87 an hour.

Earlier this year, we began addressing this challenge by giving workers doing business with the city a path to earning $15/hr by July 2021. A few months later, a coalition of community and labor partners worked with the legislature to give local governments like Denver the local power to raise the minimum wage city-wide. Now, we are proud to announce a proposal to raise wages for all Denver workers starting January 1, 2020.

Decades of research shows that minimum wage increases put more money in the pockets of workers who need it most, which are then re-invested right back into our local economy through increased spending. Evidence from cities that have led the way, like Seattle and Washington, D.C., show no real negative impacts to employment or prices. Higher wages also help retain talent and cut down on turnover costs, both of which can help companies in this competitive job market.

Increased wages represent more than dollars for Denver’s residents. Research from the University of North Carolina published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine and Public Health demonstrates that higher wages and the economic stability they bring actually improves health: lower depression and suicide rates, increased use of healthcare to treat physical and mental health conditions, reductions in premature deaths, teen births, child neglect reports, and more.

For all these reasons, we are launching a community dialogue on raising the minimum wage city-wide here in Denver. Our proposal is to follow the incremental path provided by the Legislature, raising wages to $13.80 an hour on January 1, 2020, and then to a $15.87 an hour in 2021. Wages would then increase based on the cost of living in 2020 and beyond. We are in the midst of a robust stakeholder and public feedback process including businesses large and small, neighborhoods, faith and community organizations, as well as workers and their representatives. The formal council process begins in November.

Raising Denver’s minimum wage will improve the quality of life for 100,000 hard-working individuals who call Denver home and make our thriving economy possible. We look forward to feedback on the proposal and a community dialogue on how higher wages for Denver workers can help combat income inequality and severe racial disparities in earnings, improve economic security for Denver residents, and help attract and retain talent in a competitive labor market. Please go to www.denvergov.org/livablewage to read the full proposal and find a public meeting.

Robin Kniech represents the city of Denver as a councilmember-at-large. She can be reached at robin.kniech@denvergov.org. Michael B. Hancock is the 45th mayor of Denver. His office can be reached at 720-865-9000.

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