The Bottom LineThe Bottom Line

Economics In Brief: Denver’s Lowest-Earning Workers Will See A Wage Jump

Also, how low-wage work takes a toll on your brain.

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A 2019 City Ordinance Will Give Denver’s Lowest-Paid Workers Significant Pay Increase

A rising cost of living, a previous local minimum wage ordinance and — or better or for worse — a recession will amount to higher hourly pay for Denver’s lowest-paid workers. As The Denver Post reports, Denver is joining a small handful of cities nationwide increasing its minimum wage to $17 per hour.

In 2019, the Colorado state legislature passed HB19-1210, which repealed a cap on local governments’ ability to enact minimum wage laws. By Jan. 1, 2020, the statewide minimum wage was set to increase from $11.10 to $12 an hour. In the fine print, the passage of the bill meant cities could now increase the wage by $1.50 or 15%, whichever rate is higher.

Denver City Council quickly took advantage of its new authority, unanimously passing its own minimum wage rules in the same month. The ordinance would see an approximate $1.50 increase annually to the minimum wage until 2023. After the transitional schedule, the increase would be based on the Consumer Price Index.

As scheduled, the minimum wage is currently at $15.87 hourly. Tipped workers are currently earning $12.85 hourly. But as the Consumer Price Index’s measure of the cost of living in Denver has significantly increased, Denver’s lowest-earning workers will now earn $17 hourly by 2023. Tipped workers will earn $14.27 per hour.

Other public entities are following suit, as reported by The Denver Post. Denver Public Schools has announced wage increases across all of its lowest-paid staff, after coming to an agreement with labor unions representing school employees.

Sustained Work in Low-Wage Jobs Is Bad For Your Brain

A long work history in low-wage jobs can age a brain rapidly, Fortune reports. How quickly?

According to a newly published study by Columbia University, every decade that a worker in their peak-earning years stays in a low-wage job means over a year of cognitive aging, specifically memory loss.

There is an abundance of research showing the negative relationship between poverty and health outcomes. But Columbia’s study, which analyzed data from 2,879 individuals over a span of 24 years, is the first of its kind to specifically investigate cognitive function’s direct relationship with low-wage jobs.

“Our findings suggest that social policies that enhance the financial well-being of low-wage workers may be especially beneficial for cognitive health,” said senior author Adina Zeki Al Hazzouri. Researchers suggested one solution to combat rapid brain aging may be raising the federal minimum wage. Currently, it stands at $7.25 and hasn’t budged since 2009.

For Black, Latino and Native Americans, Economic Security Is In Short Supply During Inflation

A national poll conducted by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health shows inflation drives financial precarity for racial and ethnic minorities.

Over half of Black and Latino respondents said recent price increases have led to “serious financial problems” for their households; among Native Americans, almost 70% of respondents said the same. Most Black, Native American and Latino respondents also reported that they don’t have enough emergency savings to cover a month’s expenses.

From May 16 through June 13, researchers polled 4,100 adults across the five largest racial and ethnic groups in the U.S. to compare the experience of inflation between non-white communities and non-Hispanic white communities. The groups experiencing the most difficulty were Black, Latino and Native American adults.

Over 60% of respondents across all groups said they had direct experience with the inability to access affordable housing. But these minorities’ experiences with eviction were higher: About 16% of Black respondents said they had been either evicted or threatened with eviction in the past year, compared to 9% of white respondents and 4% of Asians.

There is a small sign of a positive outlook toward the future: 80% of respondents across all groups believe their children under the age of 18 will graduate from college. But respondents’ outlook on their own lives are overwhelmingly negative, especially for Black and Latino participants. As NPR reports, “For both groups, half of those polled say they are falling behind in terms of achieving life goals over the past year, compared to 40% of white Americans.”

This article is part of The Bottom Line, a series exploring scalable solutions for problems related to affordability, inclusive economic growth and access to capital. Click here to subscribe to our Bottom Line newsletter.

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Marielle Argueza is Next City’s Equitable Cities Reporting Fellow for Racial Justice Narratives in partnership with Triad City Beat in Greensboro, North Carolina. Formerly Next City's INN/Columbia Journalism School intern for Summer-Fall 2022, she’s a journalist with more than a decade of experience reporting on education, immigration, labor, criminal justice, climate and more. Her work in K-12 education is award-winning and she was recognized multiple times by the California News Publishers Association. She is a recent graduate of Columbia Journalism School, where she was Toni Stabile Investigative Fellow. Her work includes a story on Harlem’s last assisted-living facility for people living with HIV/AIDS; a profile on New York State’s first Farmers Union; and a database of deaths within the Milwaukee County Jail. She is also a recipient of other fellowships and scholarships from several notable organizations within the news industry including the Asian American Journalists Association, Association of Alternative Newsmedia, ProPublica, and the Journalism and Women Symposium.

Tags: healthminimum wagedenverracial wealth gapinflation

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