No surprise: Pitkin County not a cheap place to live |

No surprise: Pitkin County not a cheap place to live

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado

ASPEN – Nursing is a wise choice as a profession for someone looking to make a living wage in Pitkin County. So is a management-level job.

An analysis of what constitutes self-sufficiency – how much an individual must earn to cover the basic costs of life – puts Pitkin County at the top of the list, followed by Eagle and Boulder counties, according to the 2011 Colorado Self Sufficiency Standard.

A report on the standard was presented to Pitkin County commissioners Tuesday by Tracey Stewart, family economic security program manager for the Denver-based Colorado Center on Law and Policy, a legal-advocacy group that works on behalf of low-income residents across Colorado.

“Pitkin County always leads the pack,” Stewart said. “Place is very key in determining what it costs to make ends meet.”

In Colorado’s Kit Carson County, on the Kansas border, for example, a family of one adult, one preschooler and one school-age child requires an annual income of $30,089 to survive, according to the data. That’s 162 percent of what’s roundly considered the outdated federal poverty level standard. In Pitkin County, the same family requires an annual income of $66,607, or 359 percent of the federal poverty level.

A single person in Pitkin County requires annual earnings of $27,177 to meet expenses, while an adult with one preschooler needs as much as $59,408 annually to cover such costs as housing, child care, food, health care, transportation and taxes.

That doesn’t include setting any money aside, Stewart added.

“Being self-sufficient in your working life is going to put you in poverty in your retirement life,” she said.

In Pitkin County, Stewart said, registered nurses and a group dubbed general and operations managers earn enough to exceed the self-sufficiency standard, while business operations specialists come close.

“That’s not where most people in Colorado are working,” she said.

People in the service and hospitality industry who have children are earning 28 to 38 percent of what is necessary to be self-sufficient in Pitkin County, she said.

“You cannot be a waitress in most counties in Colorado and make ends meet,” Stewart said.

In Pitkin County, where many jobs are in the service industry, commissioners weren’t surprised by the numbers. The question, they said, is what they can do about it.

“You still need to fill those jobs. Those jobs are not going away,” said Commissioner George Newman.

“My question from all of this is, what can we do from here?” said Commissioner Jack Hatfield.

Aspen and Pitkin County already have an extensive, subsidized housing program for its work force, as well as subsidized day care – initiatives that put it ahead of many counties in Colorado, Stewart said.

“Pitkin County has a number of programs in place that would be great models across the state,” she said.

The purpose of the report, she said, is to guide governments and businesses in setting policies that might help remove barriers and promote advancement into the realm of self-sufficiency.

County commissioners can use the income data in coming discussions about worker housing – to make sure any investment the county makes in housing meet the needs of the work force, said County Manager Jon Peacock.

“I think the employment demographic has changed. Are we putting money in the right places?” he mused.

Stewart’s 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. She was to discuss how to use the Self Sufficiency Standard data as a tool to address closing the wage gap at a public session Tuesday evening at the Pitkin County Library. Wednesday, she will address health and human service representatives from Pitkin, Eagle and Garfield counties in El Jebel.

The Self Sufficiency Standard report has been produced every three years since 2001 in 37 states plus the District of Columbia and New York City. Go to for nationwide information and for more on the Take Action Challenge in Colorado.

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