Personal Incomes

screencap courtesy Colorado Department of Labor and Employment

The economy is a top issue on voters' minds as the election approaches. In Colorado, voters might be faced with a ballot measure asking them whether or not to raise the state's current $8.31 hourly minimum wage.

First, Initiative 101 [.pdf] backers have to turn in enough signatures to get on the ballot. If they clear that hurdle, voters will decide whether or not they want to see the minimum wage rise to $9.30 per hour. With built-in annual increases, the state's minimum would eventually be $12.00 by 2020.

Andrew Cullen / Inside Energy

As Lea Anne Shellberg knows, spring can be a difficult time. It's when the winter power bills start piling up. A broken back and a recurring skin cancer battle ended her career as an interior designer. When I first tried arranging an interview, she was in trouble.

"This is gonna be fun," she said, "we're literally going to be sitting in the dark."

Despite Shellberg and her daughter taking extra care to keep lights off and appliances unplugged, the charges for the last two months at her modular home were unexpectedly high, $470. With a fixed and razor-thin budget, she couldn't pay the bill.

When it comes to covering utility costs, the poor are paying more than they can afford and energy assistance programs are struggling to keep pace.

Stephanie Paige Ogburn / KUNC

The Front Range's booming economy is good news for many. Yet fast growth has caused a housing crunch from Denver to Fort Collins.

Rising rents and home prices are squeezing a vulnerable population: seniors. Groups that work to help lower-income older adults say they are having a harder time placing seniors in subsidized housing and also starting to see more of this population lacking a place to call home.

When The Alpaca Bubble Burst, Breeders Paid The Price

Oct 19, 2015
Following in the footsteps of ostriches, chinchillas and Dutch tulips, alpacas represent the latest in a long line of speculative agricultural bubbles.
Luke Runyon / KUNC, Harvest Public Media

Known for their calm temperaments and soft fleece, alpacas looked like the next hot thing to backyard farmers. The market was frenetic, with some top of the line animals selling for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

But the bubble burst, leaving thousands of alpaca breeders with near-worthless herds. Today, craigslist posts across the country advertise “herd liquidations” and going out of business deals on alpacas, some selling for as low as a dollar.

It’s just one more chapter in a long line of agricultural speculative bubbles that have roped in investors throughout history, throwing money at everything from emus to chinchillas to Berkshire pigs to Dutch tulips, only to find themselves in financial ruin after it bursts.

In The Oil Patch, Employees Share In The Boom And Bust

Sep 8, 2015
Leigh Paterson / Inside Energy

With oil hovering around $45 a barrel, oil workers can go from making a six-figure salary -- including overtime -- to being unemployed and broke.

When business is good, a $60,000 truck, for example, might be a reasonable purchase and maybe even a business expense. But the oil industry isn't like most businesses. Work can go away overnight. Which is what happened at oilfield services and rental company NewKota in Gillette, Wyoming.

Joe Mahoney / Rocky Mountain PBS I-News

From Moffat to Alamosa counties, Colorado is a big player in the nation's sheep industry.

The animals thrive in the state's high, dry mountains. Colorado ranked third in the value of sales of sheep and goats at $87 million in 2012, the latest data available, according to a 2014 USDA fact sheet.

Sheepherders – mostly immigrant guest workers from South America on H2-A visas – are responsible for the health of the flocks, day to day. The workers aren't subject to minimum wage like other farm workers. Instead their wages are set specially by the federal government at $750 a month in Colorado, a wage that has increased by only $50 in the past 20 years for most states, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

Now the sheep industry is girding itself for what it sees as a storm.

Anna Boiko-Weyrauch / Rocky Mountain PBS I-News

How much money do you need in Colorado to survive without outside help?

On average, Coloradans needed to earn 53 percent more money to get by without public assistance in 2015, as compared to 2001, according to the "Self-Sufficiency Standard" released June 11 by the Colorado Center on Law and Policy.

Self-sufficiency is defined as the amount an individual or family needs to earn to meet their basic needs without public assistance, such as Medicaid or public housing, or private help, such as donations from a food bank or free baby-sitting from a relative. The calculations are meant to be a more accurate measure of the cost of basic needs than the federal poverty level.

Charleston's The Digital / Flickr-Creative Commons

Rent prices in the Denver area are going up faster than rents in San Francisco. The situation isn't any better in Fort Collins and Greeley. Each community experienced double digit growth in rental prices in 2014, and the trend is not showing signs of slowing down.

But maybe your rent is affordable. Or you bought your house decades ago. So why should you care if your neighbor down the street is paying a ton for her crappy apartment?

Updated 7:38 p.m. May 12, 2015: This story has been updated to include more details and additional comments from the insurance industry.

Many companies reward their most loyal customers with incentives, discounts and freebies. But in car insurance, the opposite can actually happen. A driver can be punished with a higher premium just for being loyal to the company. 

It's called price optimization, and it happens to lots of people all the time. A driver could have no history of accidents but all of a sudden their car insurance goes up.

courtesty of I-News

It is illegal for the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment to disclose the name of an employer who has violated wage laws, no matter how egregious or benign the employer's actions are. All complaints and investigations of employers, even after they've been resolved, are confidential under the state's interpretation of a 100-year-old law.

In 1915, the Colorado legislature wrote the confidentiality into the first law on workers' compensation. The statute specifies that information employers provided "shall be for the exclusive use and information of said commission in the discharge of its official duties and shall not be open to the public."

The law now specifies that labor authorities "may" treat information containing "trade secrets" as confidential. The state's lawyers, however, have interpreted the law to extend blanket confidentiality to cover all information on investigations of unpaid wages.

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