Catastrophic job losses in Colorado forecast in retail, recreation and entertainment

Hundreds lined up to get the opportunity to apply for jobs at King Soopers at the King Soopers Marketplace at Constitution Avenue and Marksheffel Road on Monday, March 23, 2020. Many of those waiting had lost their jobs because of COVID-19 closures. Jerilee Bennett, The Gazette

Colorado could lose half its jobs in retail, recreation and entertainment, according to a new analysis of the coronavirus fallout from the Common Sense Policy Roundtable.

The bread-and-butter components of the state’s critical tourism economy are poised to lose more than 183,000 jobs, the report predicts.

That’s roughly the combined populations of Fort Collins and Littleton and 4.6% of the state’s total workforce, according to research by the Colorado-based business coalition.

For perspective, roundtable researchers looked at the fallout from the 2009 recession, when 148,000 Coloradans went on unemployment insurance.

The number of claims then never rose above 8,000 in a single week. In the past week, more than 25,000 Coloradans have applied for unemployment benefits.

“That’s sort of the tip of the iceberg,” Chris Brown, the roundtable’s director of policy and research, told Colorado Politics on Tuesday morning about his initial findings.

The jobs and other financial losses will only deepen as the crisis drags on and grows to engulf other industries and more individuals, he said.

If national projections hold, Coloradans could lose $3 billion to $9 billion in personal income from previous projections for this year, the report states.

Titled, “Testing the Resilience of Our Free Enterprise System,” the full analysis is available online.

At a time when Colorado is hemorrhaging tax revenue, it is also facing enormous increases for unemployment insurance, Medicaid and other safety net programs, Brown said.

He called now “a time of incredible uncertainty.”

Gov. Jared Polis is among those who warn that the crisis could last for months.

“We need to get back to a place where we can enjoy the things that make life worth living,” he said at a press conference Sunday.

Legislative analysts two weeks ago estimated the state’s roughly $32 billion operating budget will have to be reduced by $750 million, a number more likely to reach $1 billion shortly.

“It’s only likely to get worse,” Brown said of the deepening financial crisis.

That may mean imperiling Gov. Jared Polis’ promises to maintain free full-day kindergarten at an expected cost of $250 million, as well as investing an extra $500 million in transportation projects across the state

“This clearly puts a lot of programs in a pinch, undoubtedly,’ he said.

The decline also could shift focus on measures to curb the oil and gas industry, a major provider of jobs and tax revenue in Colorado, that already is reeling as crude oil prices crashed this month, because of foreign competition.

The Common Sense Policy Roundtable report spelled out some the steps Polis has taken to mitigate the financial impacts:

  • Increasing access to unemployment insurance by waiving requirements such as looking for work or requiring a one-week waiting period.
  • Reducing penalties and increasing leniency over evictions and foreclosures.
  • Reducing utility disconnections and penalties for those that are unable to pay their utility bill.
  • Extending the income tax filing deadline by 90 days and granting extensions for those required to make tax payments.
  • Allowing licensed retailers to deliver and provide takeout for sealed alcoholic beverages for customers who also buy food.
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