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Colorado women saw substantial gains in salary equity compared to what men made in the latest women’s wages report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Or did they?

The vast improvement had women in Colorado making 85.4 cents for every dollar a man made in 2021, up from 78.1 cents in the prior year. But back up another year to 2019 and Colorado women were actually better off, making 86.4% of what men made.

The plunge and the recovery in recent years may seem a head-scratcher. But Julie Percival, a BLS regional economist for the Southwest and Mountain Plains office, said it wasn’t a typo.

“The big change over this period was the employment shock that occurred due to the pandemic,” Percival said in an email. And now, “that ratio returns to what we’d expect to see for Colorado — mid-80s.”

In the pandemic, many women left the workforce, some because business disruptions closed their workplace or they needed to take care of their children when schools went to remote learning. That caused a huge gap in the workforce and created a labor shortage for employers.

Another explanation, Percival said, was that there was a big spike in men’s earnings in the state that year that didn’t happen for women. Men’s wages went up 17% while women’s grew 5.8%. But women’s median weekly pay ticked up in 2021 while men’s fell. That helped narrow the gap again.

The data from the BLS report is from 2021 and is based on the median weekly wage for full-time work. It’s an overall number so it doesn’t sort out skills or experience. But it’s the same data point collected since 1997, when women’s earnings were just 75.6% of what men in Colorado made.

“In 2021, things return to relative normal, as we see women’s earnings show gains, while men’s earnings fall,” Percival said. “This can be due to a couple of reasons — higher rates of unemployment with lower paid workers can show up as higher overall earnings. If we account for the spike in earnings for men, by projecting a similar rate of change from the men to the women, that ratio returns to what we’d expect to see for Colorado — mid-’80s.”

Nationwide, Colorado tied for 15th among the 50 states and Washington, D.C., in narrowing the gender pay gap. The state is also above the national average of 83.1%.

Denver Housing Authority program manager Lori Laurita works a register at Decatur Fresh Market on Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021 in Denver. (Olivia Sun, Hablame24)

Even so, that leaves a wage gap of nearly 15% between male and female workers in Colorado.

“The latest numbers showing that hard-working women in Colorado continue to be paid less than men underscore the importance of passing SB23-105, Ensure Equal Pay for Equal Work,” Sen. Jessie Danielson, a Democrat from Wheat Ridge and prime sponsor, said in an email. “The bill will accelerate progress toward pay equity and strengthen our state economy.”

The bill, which passed the Senate on April 13, was approved by the appropriations committee on Friday. It’s expected to head to the House soon for a vote.

Danielson was behind the original Equal Pay for Equal Work law that went into effect in early 2021. The law requires employers to include how much a job pays in job postings. Not every employer has complied, especially those out of state. The new bill aims to clarify some of the confusion.

In 2021, women’s median wage in Colorado was $1,035 a week compared with $1,212 for men in Colorado.

Colorado’s wages are higher than most states. Women’s salaries in Colorado ranked seventh highest for weekly median wage nationwide. That amount was even higher than what men made in 20 states, including Hawaii, Texas and Florida.

Women in Rhode Island had the highest women-to-men earnings ratio, at 91.5%, while our neighbor Utah had the lowest, at 74.6%.

There’s more to dive into here, and we’ll do that in a future story. You can help us with that by taking our next What’s Working reader poll at cosun.co/WWpaychecks:

CSU forecast: State’s slowing economy may pick up in August

Colorado’s economic growth is expected to be steady between now and August. But steady means practically zero growth, according to the latest ColoradoCast economic forecast from the Colorado Futures Center at Colorado State University. It’s the blue line on the right of this chart, between March to August 2023:

CSF economists don’t predict a big downturn — or recession — this summer. It’s an economy that’s trying to hold its own right now, said Phyllis Resnick, the center’s executive director and lead economist.

“It doesn’t look like 2008 or 2000 or any of the times where we saw a pretty significant contraction in the local economy or the state’s economy,” Resnick said. “The concern about an economy, especially a state economy, that’s sitting right around zero is that you don’t have a lot of reserves if there’s an external shock.”

Colorado’s continued low unemployment plus consumers adjusting to higher prices (and higher wages, albeit not keeping up with inflation) show the state still has resiliency, she added. But don’t get too excited about the upward direction in August. That’s how far the center’s modeling will forecast. Newer indicators, like this week’s Case-Shiller National Home Price Iindex showing that housing prices were up in February, point to growth, but at a cost, she said.

“An economy that’s not growing as quickly could take some pressure off housing prices. There’s a bit of a yin and yang there. It’s something we need here but if it takes an economic malaise to do it, there’s a price to pay,” she said. “When things slow down, demand slows down. It means businesses are potentially at a greater risk of becoming under stress. It means there’s more of a risk for unemployment to increase. … That’s not really the way we want to bring the cost of housing down.”

Small Business Week starts Sunday

The U.S. Small Business Administration kickstarted the National Small Business Week a week early by hosting events in the Denver area earlier this week to get funding programs and support in front of companies.

Starting with an overview of the entrepreneurial ecosystem over at Mi Casa Resource Center (here’s a recording of the presentation) advice included:

  • Mi Casa Resource Center, an SBA Center of Excellence, exists to help budding entrepreneurs with their business plans. >> More
  • Federal agencies must award at least 23% of their prime government contracting dollars to small businesses. >> Certify
  • International trade may sound intimidating, said Claire Ehmann, the SBA’s deputy associate administrator at the Office of International Trade, but “98% of all U.S. exporters are small businesses.” >> Tools, grants, support

The National Small Business Week starts Sunday and goes through May 6. The SBA is hosting a free two-day virtual summit starting Tuesday. >> Register

➔ Free week-long pass to local coworking space. Office Evolution, which has 13 locations along Colorado’s Front Range, has jumped on the National Small Business Week festivities and is offering free office space May 1 to 5. The company, which started in Boulder in 2003, is now part of Florida-based CoWorks. >> Reserve a spot

Worker perk: Goodwill’s daily paycheck

To attract and retain workers for its stores, Goodwill of Colorado tried a new tactic: paying employees daily. Through service partner DailyPay, Goodwill allows employees to access daily earnings right after completing a shift.

Unlike a payday loan, this pays the worker for the day's work instead of making the employee wait until payday. There's no loan to repay and no added fees for the employee — at least for the most part. The worker just needs to add DailyPay’s prepaid card and the app called Friday. This is made possible through a partnership with Visa so users can add the funds to their mobile wallet and make purchases.

A Goodwill employee brings a “boat” of donated items to the public area of the Outlet and Retail Support Center in Colorado Springs to be examined by shoppers on June 30, 2022. (Jeremy Sparig, Special to Hablame24)

Or, if the worker doesn’t have Friday, they can wait a day to get the money transferred to their bank account. For those who don’t enroll in the mobile payment system or need the money immediately, there's a $3.49 fee for an instant transfer. There is no cost to employers, according to a DailyPay spokesperson.

Since it was implemented in August, 43% of Goodwill's workforce enrolled in the service. New hires are more eager to take advantage of the service with 59% enrolling. The DailyPay service also provides free financial coaching and counseling.

Ashley Furst, Goodwill’s spokeswoman, said it’s still early to make conclusions but as of this week, workers who use the service stick around longer.

“There's a 71.9% improvement in tenure when comparing DailyPay users to non-DailyPay users,” she said.

As of Friday, Goodwill of Colorado had 135 job openings at its stores statewide, most paying a dollar or more above the state’s minimum wage. Manager positions start at $50,000 to $65,000 annually. >> Goodwill jobs

Other working bits

➔ State awards $950,000 to 27 local economic-development organizations. A pop-up retail business incubator in Huerfano County. A support group for 35 manufacturing companies in Montrose County. And soon, tools to retain and recruit businesses to every municipality in Montezuma County, including for the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe in Towaoc. These are just a few projects planned by 27 local economic-development organizations that were awarded between $25,000 to $40,000 from the state’s Economic Development Organization Action Grants. The funds came from last year’s General Assembly appropriation to spur economic development, especially in rural communities. Winners were chosen from 85 applicants. Here’s how the organizations plan to use the money. >> Grant information

➔ SBA adds veteran outreach center in Colorado Springs. With hundreds of members of the military transitioning out each month just in the Colorado Springs area, the city does seem like the most apropos spot for the SBA to put a new Veterans Business Outreach Center. It’ll be located at the Mt. Carmel Veterans Service Center, and focus on helping veterans pursue business ownership. The new center is expected to be up and running by August. >> Details

➔ Bootcamp and funding for women-owned businesses. Ladies Who Launch, the national women entrepreneurial organization, has opened up its FUND Bootcamp applications to Denver-area startups. The week-long virtual program is a crash course for women and non-binary small business owners in search of capital and growing their business. Deadline to apply is May 31. >> Apply

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

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Tamara Chuang writes about Colorado business and the local economy for Hablame24, which she cofounded in 2018 with a mission to make sure quality local journalism is a sustainable business. Her focus on the economy during the pandemic...