After a brief hiatus due to pandemic-related complications, Thrive! The Living Wage Coalition is ready to be reintroduced into the community. Now a proud program of Local First, the team is ready to continue bringing together local workers, employers, elected officials and public partners to understand the true cost of living in La Plata County and protect a living wage for our neighbors.
One of Thrive’s most recognizable initiatives! perhaps is its Employer Recognition Program – a voluntary certification for local businesses that identifies and celebrates employers who pay all of their employees a living wage. You may have noticed the iconic Thrive! sticker hung in the window of some of your favorite local businesses or displayed proudly on their websites. Since its launch in 2014, the recognition program has certified a coalition of more than 100 companies, and momentum continues to grow.
A living wage differs from the federal or state minimum wage in that it is the amount a full-time worker must earn to cover his basic needs and those of his family without private or public assistance. This number takes into consideration the true cost of living in La Plata County – factoring in housing, child care, food, health care, transportation, taxes, etc. – so that we can understand what value is actually needed to accurately support the workforce we depend on.
For 2021, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Living Wage Calculator estimates that the La Plata County Living Wage is $15.35 for a single person with no children. This estimate quickly rises to $28.52 for a couple with one child or $31.03 for a single person with one child. To put these numbers into perspective, the federal minimum wage has remained at $7.25/hr since 2008, regardless of partnership or parenthood considerations, and the current Colorado state minimum wage is set at $12.32. /h with the possibility of paying $9.30/h for tips. employees.
This large discrepancy between mandatory pay rates and the actual cost of supporting a self-employed employee is what makes programs like Thrive! if necessary – especially as we continue to examine the complexities of the current labor shortage and the impact of this economic disparity on our workforce.
Before adopting the MIT projections at face value, Thrive! undertook to cross-reference MIT calculations with available local data. While the $15.35 projected by MIT represents a predictable and stable increase from the $13.25 figure released by the Region 9 Economic Development District in 2019, personal experiences of living in County La Plata caused the Local First team to wonder if the MIT figure accurately captures the true cost of living in La Plata County today.
After collecting updated child care data from Region 9 and the Southwest Office of Child Care Resource & Referral, as well as 2021 rental costs from local property managers and realtors, the cost of projected life for a single adult with no children rose to $19.82, or $37.31 for a single adult with one child. Other La Plata County organizations and leaders also provided comments to suggest that the food and healthcare projections used by the MIT calculator should also be updated with local data — adjustments that may continue to be made. increase the true projection of the living wage.
This research process has highlighted the urgency for our local housing, childcare, food, healthcare and transport experts to come together with Region 9 to help us publish a really accurate living wage figure for La Plata County in 2022. The accuracy of this figure is critical to our understanding of the factors affecting our workforce and the implications that rising costs will continue to have on the gentrification of our mountain town in the near future.
Over the next year, we must come together to tackle every factor contributing to the rising cost of living in our county, to reduce the overall burden and provide adequate financial security for all residents.
For more information on the Thrive! Living Wage Coalition or ways to get involved in the mission, email email@example.com.
Lauren Haggerty is the Director of Policy and Programs at Local First. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.