Recent minimum wage increases in Colorado not likely to affect Summit County |

Recent minimum wage increases in Colorado not likely to affect Summit County

People walk down Main Street on Presidents Day, Monday, Feb. 21, in Breckenridge. Due to high housing and living costs, many businesses in Summit County offer higher than the state's minimum wage, making the impact of the recent statewide minimum wage increase negligible, business owners say.
Tripp Fay/For the Summit Daily News

Summit County holds a notoriously high minimum wage for entry-level jobs. 

Vail Resorts’ minimum wage has had a heavy influence on the rest of the county said Laura Kennedy, the financial director for the town of Silverthorne. 

“I think what I have noticed around town and within town is that the announcement Vail Resorts made recently — that they were going to set their minimum wage to $20 an hour — really sets the minimum wage for Summit County,” Kennedy said.

On Tuesday, Sept. 13, Governor Jared Polis announced the increase of Colorado’s minimum wage from $12.56 per hour to $13.56 per hour. 

But, with the bar already set at $20 per hour, Kennedy doesn’t predict that the state’s requirement will affect Summit County in the slightest.

“We’re always ahead of that because the labor market and the housing cost here demand that wages are a little higher than other places around the state,” she said. 

Kennedy added that because workers are desperately needed at the moment, not many people will work for a wage as low as $13.65 in Summit County. 

The other phenomena that have led to higher wages is the onset of COVID-19 and the influx of remote workers, Kennedy said. 

When the pandemic hit, many hourly workers were laid off, and because they were working hourly-wage jobs, they didn’t get paid time off or a promise of a job in the future, she explained. Afterwards, when some of them tried to come back to the county, enough remote workers had flocked to Summit that prices had increased drastically. 

“Rents had gone up, housing prices had gone up, and they were unable to actually come back and live here,” Kennedy said.

Now, retail stores and chain franchises like Starbucks have pasted signs in their windows that offer pay up to $20 an hour. 

Perhaps not surprisingly, the service industry offers the most jobs in Summit County, particularly in food service. 

For the first quarter of the year, Summit County’s number one employment industry was “Accommodation and Food Services,” according to Labor Market Information provided by the Colorado Department of Labor. 

Since they are classified as tipped employees, many of those positions don’t have the same pay rate as retail or fast food due to their balance of hourly wages and tips. 

Niall Jensen, the general manager for Pure Kitchen, said in the recent past, tipped servers have been paid $9.54 an hour. Soon, that wage will increase to $10.62 an hour to match the state’s new tipped minimum wage. 

It’s not uncommon for servers to receive a zero dollar take-home paycheck because all of their money will have gone to paying taxes on their tips according to Jensen.

While this may seem shocking, “When you’re a server, you don’t think about what you’re making hourly,” Jensen said, since most of their money comes from daily take-home tips.  

As prices rise, tips get higher, which means taxes will be higher and wages will have to be raised, Jensen said. 

If there is money after taxes, Jensen said a paycheck can be “a nice $20 to $40 bonus.”

TJ Messerschmitt, the owner of Fatty’s Pizzeria in Breckenridge, said if you look at a server’s yearly salary, it’s a high paying position. 

According to Labor Market Information, the mean hourly wage for waiters and waitresses in 2021 in Summit County was $17.70, making a yearly mean salary of $36,821. 

Therefore, it’s easy to wonder whether or not this change will affect servers at all. 

According to Messerschmitt, it’s not likely. The hourly wages for servers are mostly meant to help cover the end-of-the-year taxes so that servers don’t owe them at the end of the year. 

Restaurants will continue to watch the rate of inflation, however, because of how much it affects the price of their menu items, which can impact their servers. 

Messerschmitt also said that inflation has highly affected the cost of supply chain products from to-go containers to actual ingredients. 

He said it may be shocking to some people to see a $15 to $16 burger.

“It has to be, because of what that burger costs us to just get in our store,” he said. 

While inflation has been a big determinant of cost increases, Kennedy assured that the minimum wage increase will most likely not affect the price of living within Summit County. 

“We’re kind of in a microcosm here, an economic microcosm where our wages and our cost of living is so far above the rest of the state that I can’t see that impacting the (the cost of living) more than it already has,” Kennedy said.

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