Denver, CO

Denver minimum wage nears $16 Jan. 1, up more than a buck

David Heitz

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Denver’s minimum wage will near $16 per hour Jan. 1, rising to $15.87 per hour from $14.77. It’s an extra buck and some change.

“The scheduled increase comes from a local minimum wage ordinance sponsored by at-large City Council member Robin Kniech and Mayor Michael Hancock that was approved unanimously by Denver City Council in November 2019,” states a press release put out by Kniech’s office Wednesday.

“The wage increase … will boost pay for tens of thousands of people who work in the City and County of Denver,” the press release continues. “The 2022 raise is the third of three catch-up steps occurring annually since 2020. Beginning in 2023, Denver’s citywide minimum wage will increase more gradually on January 1 of each year according to the Consumer Price Index.”

The federal minimum wage is $11.80. Five states – Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, South Carolina, and New Hampshire – don’t have a minimum wage.

Cost of living in Denver among nation’s highest

But Denver is one of the costliest places in the country to live. “Higher wages for the workers our city depend on every day will help them mitigate cost-of-living increases and raise thousands of their families out of poverty,” Kniech said in the news release. “And because Denver’s wage has been rising since 2020 at pre-planned intervals, Denver employers were better positioned to meet today’s worker wage demand than communities and employers who came into this economy at the state minimum wage floor.”

Hancock said the pay raise comes as welcome relief. “Our economy needs to work for everyone, and for our working families, this pay raise is a big deal, especially during our recovery from the pandemic.”

Minimum wage worker plans to save money

The news release quotes a minimum wage worker who plans to save some of his increased earnings. “This raise is beneficial to my coworkers and I. It will allow me to save more money in addition to providing for life’s necessities,” said Jamiyah Law, a grocery worker. “The raise is an opportunity to increase my independence.”

Kniech said it’s critical to spread the word of the wage increase. Enforcement will be on a complaint basis. “We encourage employers to plan ahead by programming their payroll systems now, ahead of January 1, to ensure they are compliant at the start of every new year,” Denver Auditor Timothy M. O’Brien, CPA, said.

Loophole for tipped food and beverage workers

Employers cannot simply use a non-Denver mailing address to evade the ordinance. “Employers should not rely on their mailing address to determine whether or not to pay Denver’s local minimum wage,” O’Brien said. “We recommend using our regional address finder on our website to check if work was performed within the boundaries of the City and County of Denver.”

There is a loophole in the minimum wage ordinance for tipped workers. They can be paid up to $3.02 less per hour. “Employers in the food and beverage industry may claim up to $3.02 per hour for a tip credit, if they have documentation showing their employee received at least that amount in tips,” according to the news release. “If the full tip credit is applied, the minimum wage rate would be $12.85 per hour. However, the tip credit does not apply to workers in other industries, even if they sometimes receive tips.”

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I have been in the news business more than 30 years, spending much of my career at some of the best local newspapers in the country. Today, I report on Denver City Hall, homelessness and other topics for NewsBreak, much like I did in my twenties covering Newport Beach, Calif. for the Daily Pilot. I consider myself a lucky guy to still be doing what I love after so many years.

Denver, CO
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