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We may never know how many of Colorado’s missing workers died of COVID-19

Plus: New data shows what made Coloradans leave their jobs in recent months, a pandemic unemployment lawsuit has funds for 69,503 Coloradans and more!

  • Credibility:

Some readers have asked more than once: How many workers in Colorado died of COVID-19?

It’s a valid question for this column because, as previously reported, Colorado has fewer people in the labor force these days compared with April. We’re also still down from 2019.

While it’s impossible to know the exact number without contacting loved ones of the deceased and asking about their employment status, I’ve tracked down data that provides some insight into workers who died (may they rest in peace).

In a smaller version of what’s planned for this fall, Suzanne Firstenberg planted 267,000 flags last fall in four acres near RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C. Each flag represented someone who died from coronavirus. (Provided by Suzanne Firstenberg)

So, we’ve got three chunks of data:

  1. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment reported that 46,846 people died in 2020. Of those, 12,397 were between 15 and 64 years old, which is the age range of working adults in many economic data reports. That means roughly 26.4% of people who died last year were of working age, or about 1,000 per month. While the total number of deaths was higher in 2020 than 2019, working age adults accounted for about 26.7% of all deaths in 2019. So, the rate was remarkably similar.
  2. But since we have COVID-19-specific data, we can hone in on the same age group and include 2021 deaths as well. As of Oct. 23, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recorded 8,426 deaths in Colorado due to COVID. Of those, 40.7%, or 3,433, were between 25 and 64 over a 19-month period. (No deaths are listed for those under 25.)
As of Oct. 23, 2021, there were 8,458 Colorado deaths due to COVID-19, according to the state Department of Public Health and Environment. Data by age starts at age 25. While people under 25 have died, the state suppresses data when the numbers are deemed too small and potentially personally identifying. (Screenshot)
  1. And there’s the new Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey. In it, we typically learn how many people were hired, fired or quit. But there’s also a generic “other” piece that includes “retirements; transfers to other locations; deaths; or separations due to employee disability.” In August, that number was 6,000. Here’s what the monthly numbers were before and throughout the pandemic (the green line in the chart): 

What that tells us is that the number can’t be more than the 3,433 working-age adults who died of COVID. It’s likely lower.

The figure likely includes people who retired early or were not working for other reasons (the labor force participation rate only counts people who are working or unemployed and seeking work). The number may also be higher because adults are working longer and well beyond 65. I heard from people who struggled to get unemployment in the past year who said they were in their 70s.

In other words, it’s difficult to get more granular.

But to add some more perspective, if the number who died turns out to be a few thousand, that’s still far fewer than the number of older adults (14,000 last year), working moms (26,000) and others who dropped out of the workforce last year — numbers calculated in last week’s column on missing workers based on data for 2018 to 2020.

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

The question on Colorado worker deaths due to COVID was posed to the CDC, which referred me to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, which has yet to comment. I’ll drop that here if and when it does.

Of course, we do know a lot of workers have died from COVID in Colorado. A U.S. House report released Wednesday said the number of employee infections and deaths at the five largest meatpacking plants was greater than estimated — and that includes Colorado workers (though Colorado wasn’t specifically mentioned in the report). Here are a few more: 

Hiring, firing and quitting data puts Colorado at the top

Earlier this week, I dove into a new job report that tracks workplace turnover, including people who quit, were fired, hired or died. 

That’s the JOLTS report, mentioned above. It released a mound of data on Colorado to provide additional insight into what’s been going on with the state’s workers and job recovery. There were two major stumpers in the August data: Colorado had the highest rate of layoffs and job separations (which includes every reason why people left their jobs). The state also had more than its fair share of people who quit.

While the Colorado labor department said the high number of layoffs wasn’t because of people losing jobs over an employer’s vaccine mandate, the state’s current worker situation has been obviously impacted by COVID in other ways. Michelle M. from Denver wrote in to say that she lost her job in August because her employer decided to sell the business after months of pandemic decline.

You can read more about the theories behind Colorado’s August layoffs and quit rates were so high in the earlier story, “Colorado had the nation’s highest rate of layoffs and job separations in August.”

Robots replacing workers? Automating work has been talked about for years and if employers are finding it difficult to hire, they’re forced to make changes. A recent Verizon survey of 608 small businesses found that 30% have already adopted digital tools to offset lost workers. A story by The Hill mentions Amazon’s grab-and-go self-service stores, grocer Hy-Vee’s testing of robots for inventory management and ShopRite’s use of automation to speed up online deliveries

Share your labor story: cosun.co/job-stories

Companies with entry-level jobs are moving to $15 an hour, more benefits

Before dear readers bash small business owners’ attempts to raise their wage to $15 an hour as “not enough,” remember that is the predicament that many small employers are in. They’re aware that the sub-$15 is tough to live on, especially in the Denver area. 

Joe Bradshaw, who runs TenderCare assisted living facilities in the Denver area, praised the essential worker heroes who rose above the fray in the pandemic, like the emergency medical technicians and caregivers. 

“But in saying that, there’s still not a way to necessarily pay them more money, especially from our standpoint of small group homes,” he said. “At my homes, 30% to 40% of (patients) are on Medicaid.”

Bradshaw hopes to attract more caregivers at $15-17 an hour with benefits like training and cash bonuses. But he also feels that in offering higher wages, he expects more professionalism, such as showing up on time for work.

Finding workers takes more than a sign in the window at many businesses, such as Mad Greens in Denver. A printed “Now Hiring” banner decorates the eatery’s patio on Oct. 23, 2021. (Tamara Chuang, The Colorado Sun)

The much-larger MAD Greens, based in Golden, also pays slightly more than minimum wage (Denver’s minimum is currently $14.77 an hour). It made changes in the past two years to attract more workers, by offering same-day pay checks and allowing tips.

“We’ve implemented tips, which has raised the average hourly wage by 15%,” company CEO Darden Coors said in an email. “We are reducing the barriers to apply by rolling an easier application process that can be done via text. We also offer same-day pay, a key benefit we’ve had for years that gives our team members instant access to their wages. We’ve seen the hiring situation improve in recent weeks and we remain optimistic about the holidays and new year.”

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

More job news:

→ The city of Denver adopted two bonus programs to pay workers who were fully vaccinated by Sept. 30 a one-time $400 bonus, and $250 per month to those who risked COVID exposure just for doing their jobs last year. If employees were required to work in-person more than 50% of the time and/or handled items touched by others, they could earn up to $2,500 for work done between March and December 2020. >> DETAILS

→ Fast-food chicken fingers chain Raising Cane’s raised its minimum pay to $15 an hour this week. Managers earn at least $18 an hour. It’s part of the company’s aggressive growth plan to add 100 new restaurants and hire 10,000 workers in the next 50 days nationwide. It has 15 locations in Colorado. >> APPLY

→ The Lodge at Greeley senior living facility is hosting a hiring event Nov. 2. >> DETAILS

Hey employers: Got a tip on how you’re handling the labor shortage? Share it with tamara@coloradosun.com

PUA class-action lawsuit is legit (even if it’s using Venmo)

Approximately 69,503 Coloradans received a notice this month that they can be compensated for $80 for time lost dealing with unemployment security breaches last year. That’s according to Goldenberg Schneider LPA, the law firm that was lead counsel in the class-action lawsuit against Deloitte Consulting, a contractor used by Colorado’s Department of Labor and Employment to manage unemployment benefits.

Those eligible are in a very small group of folks — they must have been on Pandemic Unemployment Assistance between May 18 and 21, 2020. The problem was created by insecurities in websites designed by Deloitte for CDLE, as well as employment agencies in Illinois and Ohio. The sites were vulnerable to data security breaches on those days, when, in rare cases, a user could access another user’s information

Deloitte agreed to pay $4.95 million in August to settle the case, which affected 237,675 people in the three states. Those eligible can claim $20 an hour for up to four hours of time spent struggling through the websites, though an additional eight hours may be claimed as well. One third of the money went to pay attorney fees, according to a Bloomberg Law report.

A Deloitte spokeswoman said the state of Colorado will not have to pay any of the settlement.

Get your share of the pandemic unemployment data breach by check, PayPal or Venmo. The class action suit against Deloitte Consulting was settled in August 2021 for $4.95 million.

Some unemployed workers questioned the legitimacy of the notices because settlement payment options included PayPal and Venmo. 

The digital payment options are legit, said Jeff Goldenberg, an attorney with Goldenberg Schneider in Ohio. 

“It’s relatively new within the last year that it’s become an option,” Goldenberg said. “It actually lowers the administrative cost to issue a payment.”

The deadline to file a claim is Jan. 17. And if you’re eligible, you can opt for a check to be mailed to you. More information is at  PUAsettlement.com.

Earlier: Colorado’s unemployment system, slammed with coronavirus claims, inadvertently exposed people’s private data

More unemployment news

The number of people on continued unemployment or filing for the first time continues to drop each week. The most recent data shows that Colorado now has 22,916 on unemployment, which compares to the 2019 weekly average of 18,600 on continued unemployment. 

First-time filings also dropped 6.8% in a week to 2,029 for the week ended Oct. 23. In 2019, the weekly average was 1,900.

ICYMI: People who quit their job because of an employer’s vaccine mandate can apply for unemployment benefits. But, said Phil Spesshardt, director of the state Division of Unemployment Insurance, “that does not mean they will be approved to receive benefits.” Claims are decided on a case-by-case basis. >> STORY

Paid family leave

President Joe Biden’s plan to offer up to 12 weeks of paid family leave to working Americans appears to have been cut from a massive social budget plan. 

But in Colorado, there will soon be paid family leave. It was a measure passed last November that is available to all workers — including gig workers — who contribute to an insurance fund that their employers also must start paying into beginning in 2023. In 2024, workers can start to request up to $1,100 per week if they are on leave.

This is different from the paid leave provided under the Healthy Families and Workplaces Act, which took effect in July 2020 during COVID. This includes time-off for sick leave or preventative care, such as getting a vaccination, and impacts businesses with 16 or more employees. Covered workers earn one hour of sick time per 30 hours worked, up to 48 hours a year.

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

→ SICK MEANS SICK: No, changes in school COVID policies that left it up to parents to keep exposed kids at home didn’t mean parents can tap into paid sick leave. It’s only if the child is sick, which was the policy all along. Our news friends at KVNF in Paonia share an update. >> LISTEN

→ MESSED UP FAMILY LEAVE: The New York Times goes deep into Amazon’s troubles after a message to Jeff Bezos triggered an investigation into why workers on family leave were being shortchanged wages. >> STORY


If you’re reading this online, did you know you can get What’s Working via email every Saturday morning? Sign up at coloradosun.com/getww. See you next week! ~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


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