Hancock administration exploring an eventual $15 minimum wage for city employees, contractors

Fifteen dollars today probably won’t be worth $15 years from now, though.

City workers load bins with personal items for 30-day storage. "Homeless sweeps" on Nov. 15, 2016. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

City workers load bins with personal items for 30-day storage. "Homeless sweeps" on Nov. 15, 2016. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

staff photos

Mayor Michael Hancock will consider raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour for city employees, his office announced in a press release Tuesday. If enacted, the pay rate would apply to contractors and other businesses that operate in city-owned buildings.

The Denver Department of Finance will explore the viability of the higher wage, which would get implemented over “several years,” the statement said.

The announcement coincides with a ballot initiative, likely to go before voters in May, that would raise the minimum hourly wage for workers at Denver International Airport to $15. Colorado’s minimum wage will rise to $12 in 2020, so we’re looking at a $3 increase by the time the wage gets implemented.

“Lower- and middle-income workers are struggling to get by. I’ve been meeting with many employees and listened to stories and experiences,” Hancock said in a written statement. “I believe we have an opportunity here to make a meaningful difference in people’s lives.”

Fifteen dollars today probably won’t be worth $15 years from now, though. Inflation and higher living costs could dull the edge of the wage. According to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s living wage calculator, a single parent with a child needs to make $28 per hour to get by, while an individual needs about $13.

I asked a spokesperson for the mayor’s office, Mike Strott, why the mayor’s office set the figure at $15 before a review took place. That pay floor is the “rallying cry” nationally for a livable wage, Strott said, adding that a couple in which each person makes $15 would result in “a significant boost for income” and “lessen the burden on housing costs and other amenities.”

The pay study should be complete by early 2019, Strott said. We’ll know then if and when the wage will go live.

City Councilman Paul Kashmann told Denverite he applauded the mayor’s move in this direction, but remains concerned about “the insidious effects of poverty.”

“You can easily do the math and figure out how much someone needs to earn,” Kashmann said. “What doesn’t translate as easily … is how much time working people are going to have to read to their children. The kid who doesn’t get that time being read to, how many words are gonna be in that kid’s vocabulary when they get to kindergarten as opposed to the kid who gets read to?”

This article was updataed to reflect the correct wage of Colorado workers come 2020.

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