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What’s Working: The benefits of employing remote workers living in Colorado’s rural communities

Plus: More companies are excluding Coloradans from their jobs, interesting unemployment trends and a survey showing What’s Working readers are finding work.

  • Credibility:

The list of employers snubbing Colorado residents for remote work opportunities continues to grow over at ColoradoExcluded.com, the site where Commerce City software engineer Aaron Batilo is posting job listings he finds — or are sent to him — to document an unintended result of Colorado’s Equal Pay for Equal Work Act

Some companies just don’t want to share how much the job pays.

When I checked in on Batilo this week, he said only one company had reached out to him to share that they’ve come up with their own form of compliance. Most people who reached out did so to share “their opinions or to vent,” he said. He also accepts donations for coffee (someone bought him 100 cups). There are now 110 employers and 224 job listings that exclude Coloradans, or about double last week’s count.

Software engineer Aaron Batilo browses his site analytics at his home in Commerce City on Wednesday, June 23, 2021. Batilo’s site, ColoradoExcluded.com, lists more than 100 local and national employers that exclude Colorado residents from job applications — including companies like Airbnb, Nike, PETA, Hilton, and IBM. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun)

Tackling the topic again with Sun politics reporters who asked lawmakers about the law’s future, I reached out to companies near and far hoping to hear their explanation of why their job listings exclude Coloradans. Most declined to comment or didn’t want to talk about it on the record.

The explanations were somewhere between these two thoughts: They’re onerous regulations or they’re still new and companies are trying to figure them out.

Travis Good, who runs cybersecurity company Haekka near Steamboat Springs, said that when he’s talked about it with friends in the tech industry, it’s more about confusion. He said companies support the intention of the law, which requires employers to be transparent about salary so people who tend to be unequally paid (ie: women and people of color) get a better sense of what colleagues in the same exact jobs make. 

But the business community just needs more clarity “because they fear repercussions for noncompliance,” he said.

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

According to the state’s Division of Labor Standards and Statistics official Equal Pay rules, the division can issue fines between $500 and $10,000 per violation if a company doesn’t disclose “compensation and benefits ‘in each posting for each job.’” (The state accepts complaints.)

And now, lawmakers appear ready to address the concerns and discuss next steps.

Batilo, who’s not used to the spotlight, said he’s not sure what his end goal is with the site because he created it on a whim. But he’s glad that “more people are learning about this law (and having) the conversation about it and either hold government officials accountable or hold companies accountable,” he said. “I think just having the exposure is going to drive an interesting conversation and I’m personally curious to see how that goes.”

Me too!

Want to let state lawmakers know how you feel about the Equal Pay law? Here are links to their emails and phone numbers of the bill’s sponsors:

Remote work in … the mountains?

The pandemic was certainly a time when more people moved to nice places in the mountains. It was hard to buy a house in the area before the pandemic. It’s gotten much worse.

But another reason for the attraction is faster internet in rural areas, especially in mountain communities. People who can afford to live in these communities are moving there — and can actually work remotely online. They’re also starting up companies or moving their companies out of Denver and other urban areas. This is one of the top reasons rural towns and municipalities want adequate broadband for residents.

There’s fiber in the mountains! Steamboat Springs-based Luminate offers gigabit internet service in the area. Skiers take some final laps during night skiing Saturday, March 14, 2020, at Steamboat Resort in Steamboat Springs. (Matt Stensland, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Travis Good, as mentioned above, runs Haekka from his home near Steamboat Springs. He said the town is getting fiber soon but his home is outside that area. He’s a Starlink satellite internet customer, which gives him 300 megabits per second on a really good day. But usually, it’s more like 50 mbps. 

“I’m trying to get a friend in Boulder to move here. He insists on having Starlink,” Good said. Only his own kids complain that the slower speed sometimes creates lag while gaming or playing. 

Haekka, which provides cybersecurity training for clients via Slack, is hiring. Good is hoping to attract a few more Coloradans to the area and maybe even to his company, even though the jobs are remote and can be performed anywhere.

There’s two openings posted (along with salary ranges) and more will be added over the next few weeks, he said.

On a related rural jobs note…

Finder, an Australian financial tech company, picked Denver for its second U.S. hub. The company, a deals and finance-comparison site (plus cryptocurrency trading), said it plans to hire for 198 new jobs that pay an annual average wage of $84,222. If it does that within eight years, Finder can qualify for up to $2.3 million in tax credits as part of the state’s job growth incentive program. >> Finder’s jobs

Of those new jobs, 74 are expected to be “location neutral,” which means those future employees can live in rural Colorado and work remotely, said Jill McGranahan, a spokeswoman for the state’s Office of Economic Development and International Trade.

If Finder meets that goal, too, it’ll qualify for an extra $300,000 Location Neutral Employment Incentive from the state.

There are rules and restrictions around the rural incentive, which was created in 2019 to drive economic development in rural Colorado. The work must be full-time and permanent in eligible counties. The incentive pays between $2,500 to $5,000 for each job created.

Read about the rules and how to apply HERE.

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

Other jobs

Goodwill of Colorado is having a statewide job fair on June 30. Just visit any location that day. The organization needs help at its stores and says it offers “competitive pay, benefits, flexible schedules and part- or full-time hours.” Jobs appear to start at minimum wage.

State government jobs: While everyone on unemployment must register with ConnectingColorado.com to hunt for jobs, have you checked out the state government job board at governmentjobs.com/careers/colorado? For Colorado, there were 532 jobs listed on Friday. Notable listings: 

  • The labor department needs several Labor & Employment Specialists in Trinidad, Lamar and Alamosa. These appear to be customer service jobs and pay $45,384 a year.
  • The Division of Housing is looking for someone to help with local homeless programs, with a salary ranging from $4,284 to $6,270 a month.
  • A deputy executive director job at the state’s Department of Public Health and Environment is open and pays $150,000 to $175,008 a year. That’s slightly less than what a physician opening at the Colorado Department of Corrections.

Early results: What’s Working readers find jobs!

It’s still early but several What’s Working readers who filled out my “Who reads What’s Working?” survey are finding gainful employment! 

When asked about their job status when they started reading the column, 45.5% said they were unemployed. But currently? That’s down to 22.7%. And note the lighter green slice: A larger percentage of readers are now employed. The missing two categories are retired (red) and other (dark blue).

This is a super unscientific survey and only a few dozen of you have filled it out (thank you!) but it certainly helps me and The Sun figure out how to evolve the column as more folks get vaccinated and yearn for a new normal working life. 

→ If you’re a semi-regular reader, fill out the survey HERE for a chance to win a $100 Visa gift card. Details are on the form, so thanks in advance.

Unemployment beat

There are 10 weeks left of federal unemployment benefits — and no one seems to be talking about extending them beyond Sept. 6. CNET news reports that 26 states have dropped out of federal benefit programs early. Colorado is sticking with the program until the end. Colorado’s last day of eligibility is Sept. 4, a Saturday, and also the end of a full week.

The number of Coloradans collecting another unemployment check continues to improve, falling 1% for the week ending June 12 from the prior week. We’re down to 137,404 on continued unemployment, which is the lowest since the pandemic began in March 2020.

But not all data is showing improvement. According to the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, nearly 1,500 more people were collecting regular unemployment the week of June 12 compared with the prior week. The overall number, however, is still down because almost 2,600 people dropped out of federal Pandemic Unemployment Emergency Compensation. The number of Pandemic Unemployment Assistance first-time claims jumped by 300 in a week.

Phil Spesshardt, director of the state’s Division of Unemployment Insurance said it’s difficult to suss out any real trends from weekly numbers because they can change significantly for a variety of reasons. Revisions have also been made in the past due to fraudulent claims, especially in PUA, which are benefits for gig workers.. 

“This would be indicative of additional fraud attempts,” Spesshardt said in an email. “ After speaking with our counterparts in other states, we suspect some folks who had PUA claims in another state that ended the PUA program early are now trying to file for PUA in Colorado and in other states where the program is still being administered.  With the early end to these programs in other states, we anticipated a potential for increased fraud attempts.”

Spesshardt added CDLE “recently released (fraud) holds on a group that impacted a couple thousand claims,” thanks to improved fraud analytics.  

More unemployment notes

  • 14,102 people have opted to join the state’s Jumpstart program for a chance at earning a $1,200 to $1,600 bonus for returning to work. The last day to opt in is today. June 26. >> DETAILS
  • State Extended Benefits, which essentially kept benefits flowing for those who’d exhausted their state allotments, were back between Feb. 28 but stopped again June 12. But that doesn’t explain why $4.6 million in SEB has been paid since May 15. Those were backdated claims from 2020, says CDLE, which means the agency is finally getting to unpaid claims.
  • $9.98 billion — The amount of money CDLE has distributed in federal and state unemployment benefits since March 29, 2020.
  • $1.014 billion — The amount of money Colorado borrowed from the federal government to pay regular unemployed workers during the pandemic. Employers in the state will have to pay it back.

More federal benefit news

The big one coming this summer to families with children is the Child Tax Credit, which was spearheaded by Colorado’s own Sen. Michael Bennet

If you’re on the list to receive a tax credit for having kids at home, payments are supposed to start at the end of June, which is now. The benefit ranges between $3,000 and $3,600 for each child under 18. The benefit ends in 2022 though Bennet is working to extend it.

To check eligibility or make sure you’re enrolled — or decide to reject the payment — find more information on the IRS site. >> DETAILS

Rent assistance: The state’s Emergency Housing Assistance Program is still taking applications from Coloradans who lost their job or experienced income loss this year. There appears to be more than $650 million available and only about $10 million has been distributed. Read more at “Struggling renters get one more month — likely the last — to postpone monthly rent payment.” >> APPLY TO ERAP 

Coming Soon: Mortgage help. The Colorado Division of Housing is setting up a Homeownership Assistance Fund to dole out the $175 million from the federal American Rescue Plan just for needy home owners in Colorado. But how should the program operate? The state wants your feedback via a survey (English and Spanish) and is hosting community meetings on June 30 and July 1, plus a public hearing on Aug. 4. >> ATTEND


Thanks for reading and do me a favor and fill out the “Who reads What’s Working?” survey. We’ll pick a winner for a $100 Visa gift card from everyone who fills it out and opts in to the drawing. No pressure! But on that note, What’s Working will take a break next week for the July 4th holiday. See you back here on July 10. Stay cool everyone! ~ tamara


What’s Working is a Colorado Sun column for readers navigating pandemic employment. Read the archive and don’t miss the next one. Get this free newsletter delivered to your inbox by signing up at coloradosun.com/getww.

MORE: Read stories on Colorado jobs and unemployment