Recently, Amy and I hosted a conversation with Scott Wasserman, the president of Colorado’s Bell Policy Center. For those not familiar with the Bell, it is a research and advocacy organization focused on economic mobility in Colorado.
In his presentation, Scott presented a range of data about four major forces affecting our economy: demographics, public investment, technology, and inequality. As he went through his presentation, it became clear that while Colorado is home to a booming economy that many of us enjoy, there are many others in our state who are being left behind.
Several aspects of the Bell’s work stand out as concerns that all Coloradans need to grapple with. The demands of an aging population have technological, social, and financial implications. Demographics are shifting rapidly, including a growing Latino population that is not getting access to the education they need to keep our workforce competitive.
Scott presented a different look at inequality, focusing less on the gaps between the top 1% and the bottom 99% and more on what’s happening with the “middle class”. According to a report that the Bell produced with the University of Colorado, our state’s middle class is shrinking as it is unable to afford things like child care and college. Meanwhile, Colorado, which is one of the top economies in the country, has seen an increase in the percentage of low wage workers from 13% in 2014 to 22% in 2016.
Scott also called our attention to the dramatic decrease in public spending that is happening in our state. Colorado’s spending measured as a percentage of total personal income has gone down from 5.5% in 1970 to 3.9% today for higher education, public schools, and human services.
After Scott’s presentation, the group of attendees (about 50 of us) had a vibrant conversation about the implications of what Scott presented and what we can do about it. Some of our guests believed the answers to these challenges were to turn public investment around to take advantage of our strong economy to invest in the future. Other guests were reluctant to make dramatic changes in tax policy that might upset the balance that currently exists between predictable tax levels and investment.
Regardless of your political orientation, these are issues we can’t ignore. I’m grateful for the work that organizations like the Bell do, as they help us better understand issues we need to be paying attention to.