The Colorado Secretary of State approved a ballot initiative on Thursday that, if passed, would raise the minimum wage by 90 cents per year until 2020, when it would top out at $12 an hour. (Minimum wage is currently $8.31 per hour, and $5.29 for workers who receive tips.) The Colorado Families for a Fair Wage—a coalition formed by several economic justice and immigration rights nonprofits in 2015—is the driving force behind Initiative 101.

“Wages had never recovered or made any sort of improvement from pre-recession, and all of a sudden housing costs were just sky-rocketing,” says Patty Kupfer, campaign manager of Colorado Families for a Fair Wage. “Everyone is touting this great economy we have in the state but all of these people were being left behind.”

(Read more about Colorado’s fight for a higher minimum wage)

After months of discussions about how to tackle the issue of economic inequality, the group decided to focus their efforts on a single ballot initiative to raise the minimum wage via a constitutional amendment. Colorado Families for a Fair Wage trained volunteers to collect signatures—the group submitted more than double the number needed—and got them in under deadline. Coalition Co-chair Lizeth Chacon says their efforts focused on high-density events, like Denver PrideFest and the Colorado Latino Festival in Longmont.

Now that it’s officially on the ballot, Colorado Families for a Fair Wage is turning its attention to voters. Kupfer says they’re gearing up for a door-to-door campaign and will also begin an educational push on social media. To date, the campaign has raised just over $1 million.

While Colorado Families for a Fair Wage argues that an increase in the minimum wage would ultimately boost the Colorado economy, opponents like Keep Colorado Working asserts that the proposed amendment would damage small businesses, particularly in the San Luis Valley, Western Slope, and other rural areas. The newly formed coalition’s members include the Colorado Restaurant Association, the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry, and the National Federation of Independent Business, according to the Denver Business Journal.

Other concerns center on the labor market. Keep Colorado Working argues that a higher minimum wage would force businesses to lay off or hire fewer employees, and contribute to a higher teen unemployment rate. The group cites a Common Sense Policy Roundtable report, published in June to evaluate the proposed initiative, which found that its passage would decrease employment by about 90,000 jobs.

According to 2013 research from the Colorado Fiscal Institute, 26.2 percent of our state’s jobs were considered low wage. Today, that number is closer to 42 percent. Kupter says there’s a misconception about who earns a minimum wage in Colorado. According to the New York Times, the average age of a minimum wage worker is 35, and 88 percent are at least 20 years old. Women and minorities are overrepresented within this demographic.

The Secretary of State’s office has until September 7 to review the signatures, but given the investment in this issue, voters can expect to hear strong arguments from both sides up until the November election.

Haley Gray
Haley Gray
Haley Gray is a Boulder-based freelance journalist. Her work has appeared in 5280, Roads and Kingdoms, Boulder Magazine, and the Albuquerque Journal.