Oct 17, 2016

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On August 10, 2023, CCLP celebrated our 25th anniversary, bringing friends new and old to the Carriage House at the Governor's Residence.

Raise the wage for rural Colorado

by | Oct 17, 2016

Statistics show that low-wage workers in rural Colorado need a raise. Underscoring that point is the fact that household income is lower and poverty rates are higher in rural counties of Colorado compared to urban areas. Meanwhile, the economic gap between urban and rural areas of the state continued to widen since the Great Recession and the uneven recovery that followed. Colorado has one of the largest economic gaps between urban and rural areas (along with Virginia, South Carolina and Florida).

This November, Colorado voters will decide whether to give low-wage workers across the state a boost by passing Amendment 70 and increasing the minimum wage from $8.31 to $12 by 2020. As a coalition partner in the Colorado Families for a Fair Wage campaign, the Colorado Center on Law and Policy strongly supports Amendment 70 because it will help more working families in the state become self-sufficient.

While opponents argue that rural Colorado businesses cannot afford raising the minimum wage, recent history suggests that passage of Amendment  70 would be a boon for the state’s economy. For example, more than 6,000 Colorado jobs were created in rural counties after voters decided to increase the minimum wage by 33 percent in 2006. Statewide, employers added over 73,000 jobs between 2006 and 2008.

These real-world numbers are consistent with research on the employment impacts of raising the minimum wage. The most rigorous studies consistently show that raising the minimum wage has little to no negative effect on jobs, even in sectors most likely to hire low wage workers. Local economists agree: 20 leading Colorado economists signed a joint letter of support for raising the minimum wage as a positive move for the state’s economy and low wage workers.

As Colorado’s cost of living has skyrocketed in recent years, the minimum wage in the state has increased only incrementally. Case-in-point: A basic-needs budget for a family of one adult and two children increased by over 50 percent between 2001 and 2015. During the same period of time, median earnings went up a mere 18 percent. Across the state, even as wages stagnated during the Great Recession, the cost of living continued to increase.

The result is that the current minimum wage (equivalent to less than $300 a week for a full-time job) falls far short of self-sufficiency in most counties across the state. Once we factor child care into the equation, a single adult with one child living anywhere in Colorado cannot make ends meet working for the current minimum wage.

Opponents of Amendment 70 maintain that the ballot initiative would hurt the state’s economy. But the evidence shows that when hardworking Coloradans earn more money, they spend it on the local economy and benefit Main Street businesses. In fact, according to a new independent study by the University of Denver, raising the minimum wage to $12 by 2020 will increase Colorado’s Gross Domestic Product by $400 million.

Rural and urban communities alike can afford this modest, phased-in approach to raising earnings for low-wage workers while giving local businesses across the state a boost in consumer spending.

-Michelle Webster

Recent articles

25th anniversary recap

On August 10, 2023, CCLP celebrated our 25th anniversary, bringing friends new and old to the Carriage House at the Governor's Residence.


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.


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.


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.


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.