“Imagine the society we could build if people weren’t always stressed about making ends meet,” said Carlos Álvarez-Aranyos, managing partner of Boulder Transport.
That’s the kind of society some residents hope to achieve by increasing Boulder’s minimum wage.
House Bill 1210, signed into law by Gov. Jared Polis in May, allows Colorado cities and counties to set their own minimum wages starting in 2020. The minimum wage in Colorado currently sits at $11.10 per hour, but with the cost of living in Boulder nearly double the national average, many residents believe that Boulder’s needs to increase.
“By paying low wages, the American economy doesn’t just generate economic hardship, it also restricts people’s ability to contribute in areas beyond work,” Álvarez-Aranyos said. “Boulder should set an example for the rest of the nation by empowering every one of its residents to live full, balanced lives that allow them to maximize their contributions to our society.”
According to the Economic Policy Institute’s family budget calculator, a single adult with no children needs an annual salary of $45,517 to survive in Boulder. That number increases to $74,594 with the addition of a child. In comparison, a full-time minimum wage worker in Colorado earns a salary of $23,088 before taxes.
“By paying low wages, the American economy doesn’t just generate economic hardship, it also restricts people’s ability to contribute in areas beyond work.”
Carlos Álvarez-Aranyos, Boulder Transport managing partner
The City of Boulder increased the minimum wage of city workers to $15.67 an hour in 2017. However, wages affect all workers, not just the city’s.
Mariano Oreanuno, who manages the family-owned Italian restaurant Il Pastaio, said that low wages are a major issue for many restaurant workers in Boulder.
“A lot of the kitchen help is usually low-income … and a lot of the time those people are immigrants,” said Oreanuno, the son of the business’ owner. “A lot of them just can’t even afford to live in the town anymore so they have to commute from far away to come work at restaurants like this.”
Oreanuno expressed support towards raising Boulder’s minimum wage, saying that it would help more than it would hurt small businesses like his family’s. “I like the idea that customers know that they’re supporting a business that is employing people who live and work in Boulder,” he said.
However, Oreanuno also addressed possible complications of raising wages.
“(Boulder) is very heavily taxed already and there are quite a few other demands … cost of living, for everyone, including the (business) ownership,” Oreanuno said. “Maybe people from Broomfield and Westminster will start commuting to Boulder to work at a restaurant. … And what does that mean? How is the city helping as far as commutes and mass transit?”
Other cities have taken steps towards raising minimum wages.
On Monday, the Denver City Council unanimously voted to increase Denver’s citywide minimum wage to $15.87 per hour by 2022. Denver is now the first Colorado city to raise the local minimum wage. The estimated annual cost of living in Denver is $41,200 for a single adult with no children, over $4,000 less than Boulder.
Some arguments against raising the minimum wage claim that small businesses would suffer or be forced to lay off employees to meet the wage requirements. Others claim that increasing the minimum wage on local levels would push customers and employees to nearby cheaper markets.
In addition to potential business consequences, some opponents of increasing the minimum wage argue that it is an issue of individual rights.
“It is immoral for government to prohibit consensual relationships,” said Jon Caldara, referring to business relationships between workers and bosses. Caldara, the president of Denver’s libertarian-conservative think tank, the Independence Institute, compared wage restrictions to marriage restrictions.
“The City of Boulder has a proud history of fighting the hateful ban on gay marriage,” Caldara said. “It would be sad indeed if Boulder forgot that history and took the role of hater-banning a consensual employer-employee relationship.”
Contact CU Independent Managing Editor Hannah Metzger at email@example.com.