Price relief at home? Not quite yet, according to the latest Consumer Price Index for the Denver area.
The one-year change in CPI, aka inflation, slowed its pace to 6.4% in January, which happened to be the same as the U.S. That’s lower than the 6.9% in November for Denver and 7.1% in the U.S. But that 6.4% means consumer prices are not only still growing, inflation is still at a 40-year high.
Nearly everything that contributes to the index was more expensive in January than it was a year earlier in Denver. Nonalcoholic beverages? Up 16.7%. Breakfast cereal? Up 14%. Fruits and vegetables? Up 12.9%. Household energy? Up 13.4%.
Add in the inflation from the prior year and the double-digit increases likely match what consumers have been feeling for the past couple of years — or at least some consumers. While government relief helped many people and businesses get through the pandemic, the severe disruptions resulted in job losses, aggravated supply chain issues and changed consumer demand. The higher prices are being felt unequally, especially if someone is a homeowner or a renter, works remotely or in person, or hasn’t seen their paycheck increase at the same rate.
“Earnings are going up about 5% roughly in the United States. But that means we’ve lost ground. We basically have had negative income for the last couple of years. And that’s hard,” said Stephan Weiler, an economics professor and co-director of the Regional Economic Development Institute at Colorado State University. “I mean people get excited about a 3% raise or 5% raise. Unfortunately, it’s not even keeping up with inflation. And that doesn’t go away. These prices stay higher. It’s fairly rare that prices come down.”
One item did drop in the past year: Used car prices, down 10.6% from a year earlier. But if you recall, a shortage of vehicles pushed used car prices up 43.4% by January 2022. The auto industry is still recovering. Here’s how inflation affected different types of purchases for the past two years.
As a reminder, the Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t track inflation by state. It doesn’t have the resources, we’ve been told. The change in CPI is recorded nationwide and in nine Census divisions and certain metro areas, including Denver.
Rising the fastest since November was the cost of apparel and recreation, which were so much higher than other categories that the BLS pointed them out.
Apparel costs had ratcheted up by double-digit increases for several months in 2021 as people headed back to work at the office or just got dressed to go out in public. However, the 8.5% higher cost for apparel in January was actually slower than the rate a year ago.
As for why Coloradans are spending more on recreation, that’s likely seasonal, said Julie Percival, a BLS regional economist. There are above-normal levels of snow in the mountains and this is, afterall, Colorado “with a lot of people taking advantage of going out to recreation facilities at this point in time,” she said. Recreation costs increased 4.7% since November and 7.7% in the past year.
And then there are gas prices. The cost of gasoline is typically less in Colorado than in other states, thanks to lower fuel taxes. And until late 2022, the Front Range benefited from an oil refinery in Denver’s backyard that produced 98,000 barrels of gasoline and petroleum products a day. Since Suncor’s refinery in Commerce City temporarily closed in December after a fire damaged equipment, gas prices have shot up. Without the extra supply, Denver-area gas prices reached $4.08 this week, up nearly $1 a gallon since before Christmas, according to AAA Colorado. Nationwide, a gallon of regular averaged $3.42.
It’s still about housing costs
But higher gas prices have less impact on CPI than you’d think, Weiler said. That’s because it’s just a small part of the overall basket of goods that the BLS calculates the change in prices. Gas is about 3%, according to its official “weight.” Those higher egg prices? One-sixteenth of a percent. It’s the larger items, like rent or a mortgage, where small increases can make or break a consumer’s budget. Housing, for example, is one-third of a household’s monthly budget.
“Shelter is a big deal. It’s a full-third of what the index is composed of,” Weiler said. “It’s just in a nick of time that housing prices are beginning to mellow. Otherwise, with that 33% weight, shelter could have us ahead of the United States inflation rate pretty quickly.”
Home sales have slowed as interest rates added hundreds of dollars to a monthly mortgage payment. That priced many renters out of the market and home prices in Colorado have flattened, with the state’s median sales price unchanged from a year ago at $520,000. Median prices in the Denver metro were down 1.4% from a year-ago in January.
But Denver’s cost of housing still went up 10% in January overall. That’s because CPI takes into account the new cost of homeownership and buying a house at interest rates that are double what they were a year ago. For existing homeowners, housing costs probably didn’t budge much in the past year. Between the two groups, home owners saw a 9.2% increase in costs.
Meanwhile, renters paid even more, or approximately 12.7% compared to a year-ago January. That increase is roughly a third more than what homeowners experienced. In other words, if new homeowners are saddled with a mortgage that is $100 higher than what it would have been a year ago, renters are paying $133 more.
“Rent is pushing up faster than what they call the ‘owners’ equivalent of rent,’” Weiler said. “So, yes, people who don’t own are experiencing faster inflation than people who own homes. And that’s a pretty big difference — a 33% greater cost basically.”
➔ Colorado’s flat real estate market: Metro Denver median home prices finally dropped after two years of unprecedented growth >> Read
On-call shifts, “clopenings” and the Fair Workweek bill
The “Fair Workweek Employment Standards” bill had its first public hearing Thursday evening — and what a showing it had.
More than 100 people voiced their opinions on the fairness or unfairness of on-call shifts, which require workers to be available in case they’re needed. There was lots of discussion about the challenge of setting schedules two weeks in advance, a requirement of the bill. And there was talk of “clopenings,” when a worker closes at night and returns the next day to reopen.
“We see disproportionate impacts for workers of color and female workers, in particular. I believe unstable schedules are an unrecognized contributor to racial inequality in our state,” said Nina DiSalvo, policy director at Towards Justice, an advocacy group for workers. “The Shift Project found that nonwhite workers are 10% to 20% more likely to experience on-call shifts, clopenings, when you come into work right after your previous shift has ended, or involuntary part-time work.”
A handful of Starbucks baristas, retail workers and union officials, as well as representatives of workers-rights groups, voiced support for House Bill 1118. It specifically aims to address employee inequity in the food and retail industry, especially hourly workers who can’t get enough hours or dream of regular schedules to better balance their nonworking lives.
“Throughout my year and a half with (Starbucks), I’ve witnessed many unfair labor practices but one of the most impactful has been hourly cuts at the discretion of management,” said Liza Nielsen, who said she’s a supervisor and barista at one of the first locations to unionize in Colorado. “Our wages have been slashed, which threatens our living situations.”
The bill would affect retail, food or beverage chains with two or more locations and a total of 250 full or part-time workers in and outside of Colorado.
The activated restaurant industry provided testimonials in opposition, some from familiar names, such as Dana Rodriguez, the single mom who started as a dishwasher and is now the James Beard Award-nominated chef behind Work & Class, Super Mega Bien and, soon, the revamped Casa Bonita in Lakewood.
“I’m here to ask you to help our employees to have a better life. A better life is,” Rodriguez testified, “to let us run our business.”
Many business and restaurant owners praised the flexibility they are afforded under current law, which allows workers to easily swap shifts. Unpredictability is so named because things like weather and family emergencies are just unpredictable. The bill would require businesses to pay one hour of “predictability pay” to workers whose shifts change with less than two weeks notice, whether they’re called in or their shift is cut because the restaurant isn’t busy.
There was also confusion as to which businesses are impacted. And what happens to businesses that already provide paid sick days and are already amenable to staff.
“This will affect us, probably. But we’re not sure,” Richard Skorman, owner of Poor Richard’s stores and eateries in Colorado Springs, said during the hearing. “There are a lot of (business owners) who care about their employees. We do. We pay our people $21 an hour. We have health insurance. We have paid vacation. The market is such that (it’s) an employee’s choice these days. This may have been a good bill four years ago, and I’m afraid that a lot of the examples you’re hearing about are ones from when there was high unemployment.”
Some business owners said they’re already holding off on expanding in Colorado because of the bill. Others said the cost of compliance would be high — $70,000 per year per location, said the Colorado Restaurant Association; $2,200 and $5,800 per shift employee per year, or up to $1 million for a business with 200 shift workers and 50 nonshift workers, according to a report from the Common Sense Institute, a think tank in Greenwood Village..
“We’re not trying to protect the bad actors,” said Rachel Beck, executive director of the Colorado Competitive Council, who represented 50 major employers and a statewide coalition of local chambers that oppose the bill. “We’re trying to protect the good ones. And we know there are many. This subjects people who are accommodating their employees to punitive measures and unreasonable costs.”
After more than five hours of testimony, the House Business Affairs and Labor committee decided to lay over the bill, or postpone a vote, until an unspecified future date.
“We did come up with an amendment and have worked with stakeholders on this,” said Rep. Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez, a Denver Democrat and one of the measure’s prime sponsors. “We received additional feedback so we’d like an opportunity to continue the conversation.”
The Colorado Sun’s politics team reached out to Gov. Jared Polis about his position on the bill. He didn’t respond. With Gutierrez laying the measure aside to work on amendments, “that’s usually a sign legislation is on weak footing,” according to The Unaffiliated. >> Get The Unaffiliated
➔ LISTEN: Testimony on House Bill 1118 (starts around at 3:23 p.m.)
Should every working Coloradan be able to afford a house?
Most readers who took the weekly poll said yes, Coloradans should be able to afford a house. But there were caveats, since we’re letting respondents add their own answer.
Thanks to everyone who took the poll! Due to limited time, we’ll have to wait until next week to dig into some of the responses. So if you haven’t yet, take the poll and help us report on housing, affordability and Colorado.
Other working bits
➔ More chips in Colorado Springs — Microchip Technology is the latest chipmaker to double down in Colorado Springs. The Arizona company said Friday it plans to add 400 jobs and invest $880 million partly to upgrade its existing manufacturing plant in Colorado Springs. Its products are used in the automotive, aerospace and defense industries. Local governments chipped in $47 million in incentives to encourage Microchip’s expansion. The company, which currently employs 850 in the state, also cited the CHIPS and Science Act of 2022, which set aside $280 billion to encourage the semiconductor industry to return to America. In December, semiconductor materials maker Entegris Inc. picked Colorado Springs to expand, citing CHIPS as well for influencing its decision. >> Announcement, Microchip jobs
➔ Kids were cleaning Greeley meatpacking plant — Packers Sanitation Services, a food sanitation service provider, paid $1.5 million in penalties for employing 102 children to clean 13 meatpacking plants, including the JBS Foods facility in Greeley, the U.S. Department of Labor announced Friday. The fines came after a months-long investigation stemming from a complaint that children, aged 13 to 17, worked night shifts to clean “dangerous powered equipment.” Four minors were in Greeley, where Packers was assessed fines of $60,552. >> Colorado Sun
➔ Focus on education to improve economy — Concerned by a slowdown in population growth, the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce held its inaugural “Toward a More Competitive Colorado” event this week. One area of focus? Education. The state has one of the lowest high school graduation rates (42nd) and is in the bottom half of states for students who attend college in their own state (37th). “Do they feel safe in Colorado? Can they afford a home in Colorado? Do we have policy that encourages their economic prosperity in Colorado?” the Chamber’s CEO JJ Ament asked in a statement. >> Report
Don’t miss: Sun stories on the economy
➔ Housing policy and local control: Reporter Elliott Wenzler explores the testy topics of rent control, eviction limits and local land use in “Colorado Democrats are turning 2023 into the year of housing. But should the state wade into local land decisions?” >> Read
➔ Organized ski patrol: No matter how rewarding a career as a ski patroller is, the low pay makes it challenging to live near the job at Colorado’s ski resorts. Sun reporter Olivia Prentzel tackles the topic of unions in “Loveland Ski Area patrollers, paramedics seek to unionize in push for better wages.” >> Read
➔ Xcel customers may get a refund. No, not Xcel customers who saw their energy bills shoot up in recent months. Reporter Michael Booth tackles the solar delays Xcel is facing in “Xcel may have to refund connection fees for Colorado homeowners whose solar projects were delayed.” >> Read
➔ Centura Health announces splitsville. Can’t beat the Valentine’s Day lede about Centura Health breaking up its hospital system in this John Ingold story: “On Valentine’s Day, one of the largest hospital systems in Colorado announced that it is getting a divorce.” >> Read
The Daily Sun-Up podcast | More episodes
Thanks for sticking with me for this week’s report. As always, share your 2 cents on how the economy is keeping you down or helping you up at cosun.co/heyww. ~ tamara
Miss a column? Catch up:
- What’s Working: When Colorado’s tight labor market met the state’s housing affordability issue
- What’s Working: Colorado business bankruptcies decline; startups on the rise
- What’s Working: Get ready for Colorado’s wage transparency law, part 2
- What’s Working: Colorado’s unemployment rate dropped, but so did the number of people in the workforce
- What’s Working: How Colorado’s high egg and energy prices mesh with its slowing inflation
What’s Working is a Colorado Sun column about surviving in today’s economy. Email firstname.lastname@example.org with stories, tips or questions. Read the archive, ask a question at cosun.co/heyww and don’t miss the next one by signing up at coloradosun.com/getww.
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