Article by Mel Ulle

Right now, the minimum wage in Colorado is $12.32 per hour. Meanwhile, the average rent for an apartment in Denver is a cool $1,748 for a one-bedroom unit. With a monthly income of $1,971 a full-time minimum wage worker is left with $223 a month to cover utilities, food, transportation, medical expenses and the errant beer with a friend. This math doesn’t work and as a Denver-born, Wash Park-before-it-was-what-it-is-today-reared gal, it stings a bit to see what the success of our city has meant for the average Joe or Jane. This is a bit of a micro look at a macro issue.

The economy is rebounding with job growth that outpaces the recovery of the Great Recession however this success belies an unfortunate truth which is that the recovery is not benefiting all of us in the same way. Same storm, different boats. For example, people of color are not realizing the same employment numbers, and they continue to experience a wage gap that perpetuates inequities in growth and earning potential.

Fortunately, there are several solid agencies in Denver who are investing in workforce development for those who are most vulnerable to an uncertain economic future. A particularly stellar example is CrossPurpose in northeast Denver, and Englewood. Their career and community development program gives participants tuition-free career training and personal coaching in a six-month program that ends with job opportunities that are higher than minimum wage. The career training tracks include: Medical Billing and Coding, Medical Assisting, CNA, Medical Administrative Assistant, CDL, Trades (HVAC, Electrical, Plumbing, Carpentry, Mason), Administrative Assistant, Legal Administrative Assistant, and Customer Service.

Their alumni have access to ongoing support and programs to continue their personal and professional growth. Their Change Agency is a nine-month idea incubator and accelerator which helps alumni develop ideas, businesses, projects, or non-profit organizations that give back to the community.

The success of the program is so strong that, after its first year, 100% of graduates were completely off government subsidies. Now, the program has over 300 graduates and is responsible for millions of dollars in wealth creation and economic impact for our city.

As one graduate of the program expressed, “I decided to go back to school, but I needed something now, not something that would take 2-4 years – so CrossPurpose it was. I have a job now where I’m getting paid $21/hour! The interview skills I learned and the overall resources and support I received from everyone made it happen for sure!”

Other participants describe the program as a “rocket-launcher into a new career,” and “the first time anyone believed in me.”

With the high cost of living in Denver, we know minimum wage is not going to cut it anymore and the opportunities CrossPurpose offers their students are transformational. This work is moving people out of poverty generationally. 

Imagine investing in an organization that has an actual generational impact. And CrossPurpose isn’t the only game in town! For those who are interested in opportunities to support workforce development organizations in Denver, the list is long. A few to consider are Mi Casa Resource Center, Women’s Bean Project, and Center for Work Education and Employment.

The work of these agencies is often under the radar and unseen by most of us. Please consider learning more about these champions for Colorado’s working families.

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