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Local news roundup with the Colorado Sun - 8/16/22

A service worker behind a cash register wearing a mask.
David Zalubowski
A service person wears a face covering while preparing a food stand in Coors Field before the first inning of a baseball game Sunday, May 23, 2021, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Every Tuesday, we talk with the Colorado Sun to find out what stories are on their radar. This week, KUNC’s Beau Baker spoke with reporter Michael Booth.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Interview Highlights:

Beau Baker: Let's start with efforts to give workers a livable wage. Michael, the minimum wage in Denver is set to increase next year and the state's average will also get a bump. What can you tell us?

Michael Booth: There are some big increases coming for both Denver and the state as a whole. If you remember when Fight for 15 was the big rallying cry for the minimum wage in Colorado. Tamara Chung reports for us that Denver is blowing way past that. On January 1st, Denver's minimum wage will jump 9% to $17.29 an hour. And the statewide minimum wage will also jump by a dollar to $13.68.

This all seems to be happening at a great time for workers. Inflation is pushing up their costs 9% a year, and service workers say they can't afford apartments, let alone houses. The big question is the chicken or egg dilemma for employers.

Other costs are going way up for employers to like rent, fuel, advertising for job openings and food inflation for restaurants. Higher pay allows them to attract more employees, but then they have to charge customers more. So Tamara talks through the minimum wage with both workers and employers.

Beau Baker: It seems like any increase in wages is a good thing, but is this enough of a bump? Is wage growth keeping up with inflation?

Michael Booth: I think the big question in Colorado is affordable housing, which is going up even more than 9% a year for many people. On the other hand, you can't sneeze at this increase. It's a couple thousand dollars a year when you're talking increases like that. And that's a rent payment or two for a lot of people. So it's significant.

Beau Baker: Colorado's U.S. Senator John Hickenlooper has been a bit of a chameleon over the last several years when it comes to climate and energy issues. Recently, though, he's gotten a lot of praise for his work on the Inflation Reduction Act, which is law. But his record is a bit more complicated, right?

Michael Booth: Jesse Paul wrote for us about a remarkable transformation in the image of Senator Hickenlooper, who is a Colorado Democrat, of course. Before now, he's been the target of a lot more complaints from environmental groups, than he has been a target of big praise. Hickenlooper, who presided over Colorado's massive fracking boom with huge oil and gas development in the northern Front Range.

During the 2020 Senate primaries, remember that environmental candidates attacked him for that and brought up that notorious image of him drinking fracking fluid and appearing to declare it safe. Now these same groups are praising him effusively for helping revive the Inflation Reduction Act, which is really the biggest climate change bill ever passed in America.

Beau Baker: What are these groups saying Hickenlooper did to help get the bill through?

Michael Booth: They're saying that he quietly went to side with people like Senator Manchin and didn't make a raging debate out of it or a raging fight trying to sort of keep him in the game and negotiate on things and talk to him. I think as a senator from fossil fuel producing state would to another senator and try to work out something that they could all live with.

Beau Baker: Gotcha. All very timely issues. And finally, I want to cover. There's a new report out that shows how hard it is for Colorado's teachers to afford living where they work. Here we are again talking about livable wages. Michael, what's at the heart of this report?

Michael Booth: Yes, we're back to questions about how much people need to make in order to live middle class lives in Colorado. A new study reported by Erica Breunlin shows just how hard that is for Colorado's teachers. Fewer than 20% of homes across Colorado can be afforded by teachers at the average salary in their district. And this is at a time when average salaries have gone up about 25% over the last seven years. The report by the nonpartisan Keystone Policy Center drilled down even more teachers in 24 school districts last year, living in places where fewer than one in ten homes are affordable on an average salary. A senior policy director at Keystone put it this way It matters enormously if teachers can live in the community in which they teach.

Beau Baker: Absolutely. I would second that. I imagine there's some flexibility with remote work, but that still sort of removes the element of the teacher being there in the classroom. Is there a place in the state where this is especially true, Michael?

Michael Booth: Unfortunately, it's the place where about 80% of the population and 80% of the teachers need to live. And that's metro Denver, northern Colorado and Colorado Springs, so concentrated where people need it the most.

As the Newscast Editor and Producer, I provide listeners with news and information critical to our region.