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Quick links: The job openings ratio | Poll: Pay isn’t high enough | Wages by occupation | Where wages rose/dove over 10 years| Kaiser Colorado employees authorize strike | Colorado’s labor day history

Did you know Monday will be the 136th year that Colorado has officially celebrated Labor Day? More on that below as the holiday to celebrate workers gets going.

For the past few weeks, What’s Working has focused on the ongoing data disconnect between job openings and available workers. Colorado’s June ratio is 2.07 job postings for each out-of-work job seeker. Here’s one more thing.

It wasn’t always this way. 

For most of the 21st century, Colorado had less than one job opening for every unemployed worker, based on U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data. The 2-to-1 ratio only started in March 2022, though it came really close in the fall of 2019. 

Here’s the ratio mapped out in a chart. Everything below the dotted red line indicates less than one job opening per unemployed job seeker in Colorado. 

Anyone remember when there were six unemployed workers for every job opening? Of course you do. That was just a dozen years ago as the state was coming out of the Great Recession.

“The trends of the unemployed (to job openings) ratio shows there is an abundance of workers during and after recessions,” said Gary Horvath, an economist at in Broomfield. “It shows that Colorado has had problems finding workers since about 2015 and the U.S. has had similar problems since 2018 — with the exception of the layoffs associated with COVID policy.  … From an anecdotal standpoint this makes sense.”

Not all jobs are created equal, of course. The other part of the discussion is the disconnect between the types of jobs available and who is looking for one. Colorado’s a highly educated state but the largest portion of unfilled jobs pay less than $40,000 a year and don’t require any sort of higher education degree. (Wages are based on 2021 median incomes by occupation, so it’s a bit outdated.) 

Employees in the kitchen at The Last Steep Bar & Grill on Elk Avenue in Crested Butte, Colorado on August 6, 2019. Restaurant jobs are often a first job for young workers. The pay often reflects that. Dean Krakel, Special to The Colorado Sun

Kate, who asked that her last name not be used, has a college degree in psychology and a master’s in organizational leadership. She’s in the education field and struggles to find a job that pays upward of $30 an hour. She doesn’t advise kids to follow her path.

“I’d tell my college self, psychology is handy because you can anticipate human behavior, but know that you’re going to follow it up with law, political science, forensic science, therapeutic work or teaching,” she said. “When getting said masters just stick with the normal crap. Be a lawyer.”

No surprise: People mostly want more money

Readers who took the recent What’s Working survey seem to agree with Kate. Nearly two-thirds of roughly 170 who took the poll feel that low pay is why employers can’t fill all those jobs. 

Thanks to all who participated and shared a comment about why they think Colorado’s labor market is still so tight.

A lot of folks chimed in with their opinion on why this is happening or how to resolve it:  “Dramatic downturn in immigration numbers,” and “Age discrimination, if stopped, would fill some of these positions,” or employers who require a “sheepskin degree, which CANNOT be more valuable than 30 years of experience, can it?”

It helps if you have longevity with an employee or employer. 

Patricia is 65 and works remotely from her home in the mountains. She tried to retire in July 2022. But her employer of 20 years made five attempts to hire someone but couldn’t find anyone to replace her. So, she stayed, partly to get enhanced retirement benefits in the future. 

“The failed searches were often because people wanted more money,” she said in an email. “My employer gave me a big pay bump when I decided to stay on, noting the market value of my work was higher than my previous pay.”

a tip jar on a counter in a pet supply store
A request for tips sits on the counter of a pet supply store in Broomfield on Aug. 31, 2023. (Dana Coffield, The Colorado Sun)

But it’s also about the types of jobs available that some of those hunting for one feel despair. “I’ve calculated that I only need to make $21 an hour in order to make ends meet with my spouse’s job,” one unemployed respondent said. “I was making more than double that but have lowered my standards and am willing to try something new just to get employed sooner rather than later. Even still, finding something at $21/hr or more that isn’t in a very ‘specialized degree required’ field is slim pickings.”

Others who left the workforce are toying with the idea of re-entering, including Coloradans like Michele Sliger. The former self-employed corporate trainer left the labor force during the pandemic, sold off a rental property to pay her mortgage, and now lives off the proceeds. She’ll run out of money next year, but at 59, she said doesn’t want to tap her retirement account yet.

“The thing is, I don’t think I can mentally nor physically go back to working a full-time job,” Sliger wrote in an email. “I don’t need much money now, so what I’d really like to find is a part-time job that provides health care benefits.”

A hiring sign is posted on the door of Japanese lifestyle store Ebisu on Parker Road in Aurora. (Tamara Chuang, The Colorado Sun)

That’s been a challenge, though. Her hunt for a part-time job typically pulls up jobs with no benefits or require closer to full-time hours with no benefits before six months of employment. Plus, she’d like to do something more meaningful than “brew coffee for tech bros” — or at least the obnoxious ones.

“Given the state of the world, I can’t see myself taking just any job,” she said. “I don’t think we have much time left and I sure don’t want to spend my remaining time in a meaningless unappreciated job where folks feel free to be cruel to me and even shoot me. So I’m weighing all that in my decision as well.”

Higher pay is relative

In Colorado, the median salary has increased. But that doesn’t mean it’s gone up for everyone, if you factor in inflation. 

In the new Colorado Wage Report, average hourly pay in Colorado has grown 41.3% since 2012. But adjusted for inflation and median income, income growth is closer to 35%.  

Split up wages by industry, and that pay raise diminishes even more for certain occupations. Jobs in health care support, protective services, and educators and librarians have seen hourly pay decline when adjusted for inflation and other factors. 

The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment analyzed the Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics report and found workers in food preparation have seen a 17.4% boost in wages from the comparable wage in 2012. Teachers, librarians and educators saw the biggest declines of 9.6%. 

Here’s how hourly pay in 2012 compares to 2022, again, adjusted for inflation:

Where wages rose/dove over 10 years

Pulling out the 10-year change in the above chart, here’s a starker look at how wages changed in the past decade by occupation, adjusted for inflation:

➔ Read the state labor department’s report on Colorado wages >> View

An obvious observation: Pay is relative. Management jobs had a measly 1.57% hourly pay increase over 10 years. That translates to an extra $1.11 an hour, which may be almost unnoticeable when management wages are $149,320 a year. 

Meanwhile, food preparation workers saw the greatest pay increase of 17.35% since 2012. But when the pay rate is just $17.92 an hour, few can afford an apartment, a vehicle, groceries and everything else it takes to live.

“At one time $17 was a good wage. Now, it isn’t so great,” said Jake Carper, who is employed and lives in Denver. “I make $20, which is decent, but it was much better just 3 years ago.” 

Denver’s hourly minimum wage, currently at $17.29, heads to $18.29 in January. Colorado’s hourly minimum wage is set to increase at the same rate, to nearly $14.50 next year, up from this year’s $13.65.

Another survey respondent who didn’t share a name, added, “The cost of living is too high in Colorado for most workers. Even upping minimum wage doesn’t help because then shops also up their prices. It’s a never-ending circle of businesses wanting their same profit but can’t find workers due to rising prices of basics.”

➔ Earlier: Minimum wages going up in Denver, Edgewater, Boulder County and Colorado

Other working bits

➔ Colorado Kaiser health care workers authorize strike. On the eve of Labor Day weekend, the union representing Kaiser Permanente Colorado health care workers voted to authorize an unfair labor practice strike. In a news release on Friday, the Service Employees International Union Local 105 said employees were seeking liveable wages and safer staffing levels. Kaiser employees in other states are expected to also vote to authorize a strike this month. If no agreement is reached before the existing contract expires Sept. 30, a national strike of up to 85,000 Kaiser employees could become the largest health care workers’ strike in U.S. history, according to the union. SEIU represents about 3,000 Kaiser employees in Colorado, according to CBS News. >> CBS, SEIU


➔ Montrose nursing facility to pay $150,000 in sexual harassment of female workers. SavaSeniorCare Administrative Services in Montrose and its operator SSC Montrose San Juan Operating agreed to pay a total of $150,000 to female employees who were sexually harassed by residents at the nursing facility. According to the suit, filed by the U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission in 2020, the company’s management heard complaints from workers but did nothing in 2016 to stop residents from grabbing “breasts and buttocks, asking for sexual favors” and using inappropriate language. SAVA denied the allegations and said the agreement was not an admission of guilt, reported The Montrose Press. >> Story, EEOC

➔ Colorado has a Workforce Development Month. It’s September. The state labor department is hosting various job-seeker workshops with the first one scheduled for Tuesday, focused on northwestern Colorado. In-person and online seminars for job seekers and employers include career coaching and where to find workers. (Janine Vanderburg, who started the Age Friendly Initiative, is leading a session on hiring older workers.) >> Details 

➔ Latino Chamber of Commerce hosting job fair in Longmont. As part of its mission to promote the interest of all businesses, the Latino Chamber of Boulder County is hosting a job fair with Front Range Community College and Workforce Boulder County on Sept. 21. The four-hour event starts at 10 a.m. and will be held at the college’s Boulder County campus in Longmont, 2190 Miller Drive, Building C. >> Register

Colorado among first to make Labor Day a holiday

The Arkansas River through downtown Salida appeals to people trying many types of recreation, from stand-up paddleboarding to picnicking. (Andy Colwell, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Labor is such an important part of America that it’s a federal — and state — holiday. But before it was official, an event honoring workers was celebrated in New York City in 1882 by the Central Labor Union. Five years later, states began making it a holiday.

Colorado was the second state to make the holiday official after Oregon. The Colorado General Assembly passed legislation on March 15, 1887, to officially observe Labor Day on the first Monday of September, according to the Denver Public Library. After 23 states had adopted the holiday, the U.S. finally followed in 1894, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

That first year in Colorado, on Sept. 6, 1887, about 2,000 people showed up at Argo Park in Denver to celebrate the contributions of workers, according to the library, which cited The Rocky Mountain News

“Dapper dudes faultlessly dressed and exquisitely perfumed sought with varying degrees of success to make mashes on handsome unattended females. Family parties gathered about the tables in the shade of the trees and ate their lunches.”

I’ll be laboring away in my garden Monday and I hope all those who must work on the holiday or can take it easy will have a good one! As always, share your 2 cents on how the economy is keeping you down or helping you up at ~ tamara 

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Tamara writes about businesses, technology and the local economy for The Colorado Sun. She also writes the "What's Working" column, available as a free newsletter at Contact her at, or or on LinkedIn at in/gadgetress/