Discussion to focus on Pitkin County poverty | AspenTimes.com

Discussion to focus on Pitkin County poverty

Staff report
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado

ASPEN – How much must an Aspen worker earn to pay for the basic necessities of life?

The figure might be open to debate, but it and other data related to the cost of living in Pitkin County will be unveiled at a free community presentation at the Pitkin County Library from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Tuesday.

Tracey Stewart, family economic security program manager for the Denver-based Colorado Center on Law and Policy, will give the presentation. The organization is a legal-advocacy group that works on behalf of low-income residents across Colorado.

She’ll reveal the latest “self-sufficiency standard” for Pitkin County based on a study that is done every three years. The latest data, from 2011, were released recently.

The figures reveal the cost of living in the county and the kind of jobs and wages that are necessary to keep people above the poverty level locally, she said. Identifying the obstacles and opportunities that exist in creating a more self-sufficient community is the greater goal.

Her ultimate purpose is engaging communities around the state in the Take Action Challenge – finding innovative solutions to cut poverty in Colorado in half by 2019.

Pitkin County is among the Colorado counties with a population of people Stewart calls the “invisible poor.” They are often people in service jobs, on whom the rest of the community relies, who aren’t making enough to cover housing, child care, health care, transportation and food costs.

It can be alarming for a community such as Aspen to hear there are more people struggling to make ends meet than is evident, Stewart said.

She’ll compare the costs to live in several counties in the region, including Pitkin, Garfield, Eagle, Park and Lake. In Pitkin County, housing rises to the top as an economic challenge for employees; elsewhere, health care might be the biggest challenge.

From 2001 to 2011, the overall cost of living in Pitkin County went up 30 to 39 percent, according to Stewart. Housing and child-care costs were both drivers in the increase, she said.

In adjacent Lake County, the increase was 71 to 81 percent, while Garfield County experienced a jump of 52 to 65 percent over the 10-year span, she said.

According to the study, a single person in Pitkin County needs to make $12.87 an hour to cover the basics.

“I say that and everybody says, ‘What?’ and they start laughing,” she said.

But part of Stewart’s purpose in visiting counties around the state is collecting anecdotal evidence. Often, she hears that the numbers are low, particularly in places such as Aspen.

Stewart will meet with county commissioners, a local consortium of Health and Human Service organizations, and the public. She said she hopes the “take action” portion of her program will inspire locals here and across the state to break down barriers and find solutions for the most vulnerable residents.

“What does it mean to be poor in Pitkin County?” she asked rhetorically. “Is there a way out of poverty? Those are the kinds of conversations we want to have.”

She invites the public to go to http://2019colorado.blogspot.com for ideas on how individuals can take action.

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