About Wages and People Rebuilding Lives from Addiction, Homelessness and Prison
In Denver, a living wage ranges from $8.64 an hour to $16.60 an hour depending on whether one is single or the primary wage earner in a family.
In the various Belay programs we start people rebuilding lives at $8 an hour. While our heart is that all employees would be able to make a living wage, we've discovered over the years the value of being very intentional in how we structure our wages.
We hire people rebuilding lives. Our interviewing process is very unusual. If you are qualified to get a job somewhere else, we want you to do that. Our positions are reserved for people who are shut out of the job market because of significant barriers to employability including addiction, homelessness and prison.
When we do hire someone with that background, providing too high of an initial wage is actually counterproductive. There is value at staring over near minimum wage and proving your desire to work for the future. And then, over time, receiving raises up to a wage of $10 an hour as one successfully completes the stages of our job training program. We stop raises at $10 an hour so there is incentive to leave our program and transition into a better, self-supporting job in the community.
It's interesting that back in the 1800s almost all of the leading welfare programs had a work component to them. In order to receive aid at the Buffalo Charity Organizational Society, men had to chop wood. The purpose wasn't to take advantage of the individual needing help, but to preserve their dignity...that inherent part of all humans that needs the value of work to preserve human worth. A person's willingness to stick with work, pointed to their openness to do the hard life work necessary to overcome addiction and prison.
Our wage structure works in much the same way. We think there is something extremely healthy in asking people to start-over near minimum wage and then experience raises over time as the reward of a job well-done. This process reaches its pinnacle each time someone successfully transitions into a prevailing wage job in the community with the skills to succeed over the long haul.