Minimum wage has been rising in Colorado since 2017, but the increases have not kept pace with the cost of living in La Plata County.
The state minimum wage was $8.31 in 2016, and it is scheduled to increase annually until 2020. It went up to $11.10 on Jan. 1, and it will be $12 by 2020.
However, minimum wage increases have not been enough to keep up with cost of living in Durango, Bayfield or Ignacio.
A single person in Durango needs to earn $13.47 an hour to cover living expenses, according to a new report by Region 9 Economic Development District of Southwest Colorado. In Bayfield, a livable wage for an individual is $12.32 an hour, and in Ignacio, an individual needs to earn $11.77 an hour.
Many low-income clients of the Women’s Resource Center who struggle with high cost of living work several jobs and struggle to pay for child care, said Executive Director Christy Schaerer.
“I think the cost of living is always difficult for families in our community,” she said.
The resource center encourages clients to pursue higher education so they can earn more and gain more economic stability, she said.
The new report also found Durango is the most expensive town for a family of four to live in across a five-county region because of the cost of housing.
A family of four with a child in preschool and one in school would need to earn a combined $31.74 an hour or $68,120 annually, according to Region 9. In 2015, a family of four needed to earn a combined $28.45 an hour.
Day care is driving up the cost of living for families, rising an average of 40 percent from 2015 to 2018, according to data from Early Childhood Council of La Plata County.
Executive Director of Region 9 Laura Lewis Marchino said the livable wage estimate for a family of four demonstrates “how hard it can be to support a family without public assistance, debt or maybe not having child care or health insurance,” she said
She said she expects the high price of housing and high cost of living will lead to families leaving the community.
“Minimum wage jobs are not livable for families unless there is at least one high wage earner,” she said.
Some Women’s Resource Center clients already commute long distances to work because of the high cost of housing, Schaerer said.
The La Plata County Thrive! Living Wage Coalition works to address the area’s high cost of living by encouraging employers to pay a living wage, said Kaitlin Fischer, coordinator of the employer recognition program. The coalition has recognized about 100 employers that pay livable wages, she said.
“Everyone deserves to have a job, where working full time they can meet their basic needs,” she said.
Higher wages can also increase workplace moral, productivity and help reduce turnover, she said.
As a result of Thrive’s advocacy, 103 employees have received raises, amounting to $112,950.97 in additional annual earnings, she said.