Denver Daily News
Middle class is shrinking
Group urges investments in jobs, support of unions
May 6, 2009
Denver’s middle class has been continually shrinking over the last three decades with more people not being able to earn a livable wage, according to a new report from a local nonprofit.
FRESC: Good Jobs Strong Communities found that the proportion of middle-class families in the Denver metro area fell by 10.2 percent from 1970 to 2005. Additionally, more than 365,000 metro workers, or more than 25 percent, are employed in a low-wage occupation with median wages that are less than $13.01 per hour. FRESC looked at the annual Census survey and data from the Colorado Department of Labor to help write its report.
“Beyond the current severe recession, the metro Denver area has seen a decline of the middle class and an increase in low-wage workers for decades. And the trend for the future remains the same unless we change course,” said a statement from Carmen Rhodes, executive director of FRESC. “Low-wage workers are scrambling just to keep in place.”
Rhodes attributed the decrease of Denver’s middle class to a loss of well-paid manufacturing jobs and a rise in lesser-paid service industry jobs.
Marija Weeden-Osborn, the lead retail sales associate at a national chain, is among the low-wage workers cited by FRESC who is trying to just stay afloat.
“I have student loans and on what I make, my husband and I are barely scraping by,” she said in a statement. “ I wouldn’t be able to get ahead on what I’m making now. I would prefer to leave retail and get a job in social work, but if I can’t and if I try to stay where I am, there are not a lot of ways to advance even if I wanted to.”
FRESC has several ideas for how to improve Denver’s middle class.
For one, Rhodes said the public money that is going towards projects like redeveloping transit stops along FasTracks should be used to create good-paying jobs and affordable housing for the workers.
Also, FRESC is a strong supporter of the Employee Free Choice Act. The legislation would allow workers to form a union by getting a majority of workers to sign cards to join instead of holding a so-called secret ballot election.
Opponents of the Employee Free Choice Act have said that the measure would pressure workers to join a union when they really don’t want to. Colorado Republican Party Chairman Dick Wadhams told the Denver Daily News last month that the measure would subject workers to “intimidation by union bosses” by taking away the element of ballot secrecy.
However, Rhodes said collective bargaining could help both the workers and the overall economy in the long term. If the middle class grows and more people have a larger income that they can put back into the economy, Denver will be in better shape, she said.
“People right now don’t have enough money to purchase goods and services, and that’s what our economy relies on,” she said. “That’s part of the reason we are seeing our economy not working and not as strong right now, because people don’t have enough money to buy things.”