The Boulder City Council last week stayed the course on pursuing a minimum wage increase for city workers in early 2025, despite recent pressure from workers and nonprofits operating food banks to raise legal pay sooner.
The City of Boulder is attempting to lead an effort to boost pay across the region. Longmont, Louisville, Lafayette and Erie have all agreed to join the city in setting a regional minimum wage by Jan. 1, 2025, according to city officials.
The state minimum wage, which applies to the city, is $13.65. This is far too little for most people to afford to live in Boulder. A single adult needs to bring in about $41,058 a year just to make ends meet in Boulder County, according to the latest Colorado “self-sufficiency” study. This equates roughly to an hourly wage of about $19.70.
The push to expedite the wage increases comes as workers face rising costs due to inflation and cuts to safety net services that were expanded during the Covid-19 pandemic. Housing costs, meanwhile, have soared in the past few years. So has reliance on food banks. Eviction case filings in Boulder County courts jumped to the highest levels in three years earlier this year. And homelessness, including student homelessness, is rising.
In light of these concerns, earlier this year, Boulder County’s commissioners proposed enacting a $15.70 per hour minimum wage for unincorporated areas of Boulder County by Jan. 1, 2024, a year ahead of the city’s schedule. The county is hosting listening sessions with the business community and has scheduled a public hearing on Nov. 2.
The decision by county commissions has put pressure on councilmembers to consider expediting their plans to raise wages. But City Manager Nuria Rivera-Vandermyde, and a majority of councilmembers, said during a study session last week that they preferred to stick to the original schedule of early 2025.
Their primary concern, they said, was that pursuing a minimum wage sooner would jeopardize the city’s ability to lead a regional effort. Others said it would hurt the business community, given the short notice. The Boulder Chamber is opposing the county’s effort to raise the minimum wage early next year.
“We’re going to get it wrong and we’re going to piss people off,” Councilmember Bob Yates said. Yates said he supports increasing the minimum wage in 2025, as councilmembers have been planning.
In addition to Yates, Councilmembers Matt Benjamin, Rachel Friend, Mark Wallach and Tara Winer opposed increasing the minimum wage in 2024. Mayor Aaron Brockett and Councilmembers Lauren Folkerts, Junie Joseph and Nicole Speer supported increasing the minimum wage in 2024.
“With every month that we delay, we’re paying a pretty big cost and what we pay to the people who need food assistance, the people who need help paying their energy bills, the people who need rental assistance, and the people who end up living on our streets because they can no longer afford their rent,” Speer said.
“People are telling us that they need this right now,” she added.
Councilmember Folkerts is working with other local governments to set a regional minimum wage. She acknowledged the concerns that adopting a minimum wage next year could undermine the regional effort and create challenges for businesses.
“I did struggle with this. But I will support moving forward with a faster timeline because I know how much our community members need this,” Folkerts said during the council meeting. “I hear representatives that work everyday with people in our community struggling to make ends meet and they’re pushing for immediate action and saying that is a higher priority to them than this regional effort.”
A 2019 law allows local governments to set a minimum wage above the state minimum. Since then, the City of Denver and the City of Edgewater have enacted minimum wages higher than the state’s, according to a recent state report. Denver increased its hourly wage to $17.29 in January, and Edgewater raised it to $15.02, starting on Jan 1, 2024.