Pitkin County women more likely to work

Jill Beathard
The Aspen Times

Women in Pitkin County are more likely to have a job than their counterparts across the country, according to a recent study.

The New York Times published data Tuesday from the American Community Survey that show 81 percent of working-age women — which the study considers ages 25 to 54 — in Pitkin County are employed, a rate that’s much higher than the national average of 70 percent.

Many of the geographical areas in the United States where fewer women work are places where unemployment is high in general, the article said. However, it can also be left up to culture — while the Upper East Side of New York City and Salt Lake City would be considered affluent areas, families in both places lean toward stay-at-home parenting, it says.

In other areas, the percentage of women working is actually exceeding that of the men — something the article attributes to the fact that more American women than men now earn college degrees.

Education and culture seem to play a role in why women in Pitkin County work. Chelsea Dillon, of Aspen, who owns an event-planning business in town, said she couldn’t think of many people in their 20s and 30s here who don’t work.

“If you actually live here full time, most of the people who live here are who make this town sustainable for the people who come here,” Dillon said.

Before starting her business, Dillon said she worked “every job in town” — bartending, ski instructing, retail and a full-time job at a public relations firm, during which she still worked a second job to earn more cash and to socialize. Some people in Aspen work to fund their lifestyles, she said, but she also knows some women who don’t need to, who are starting families or who continue to work because they enjoy it or because they want to give back to the community.

An example of that, although in a different age group, is Markey Butler, who retired four times before moving to Snowmass Village but took a job as executive director of HomeCare & Hospice of the Valley after she got here.

“The reason why I work is I enjoy being with people,” Butler said. “I enjoy service and caring for other people.”

Butler sees working women in Pitkin County as falling into two groups: those who choose to work who might also be at retirement age and those who have to because of the high cost of living here.

“Not to say they don’t follow their passions, but the option to work or not work is clearly not there,” Butler said.

Kimberly Martin is the principal at Aspen High School. A single mother, she’s been a principal for 12 years and taught at the high school and college level for six years before that.

“It never occurred to me where I’m from, which is Cleveland, Ohio, to not work,” Martin said. “I don’t know anyone who doesn’t work.”

She has, however, met some unemployed mothers since moving to Aspen. The cost of living might be high, but she’s met many couples who moved their families here after they were well-enough established that they didn’t need two incomes. That might make sense, given that Pitkin County’s median income in 2013 was $72,745, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

It’s certainly not because those mothers are uneducated, though.

“I don’t think I’ve met anyone who has less than a master’s in a long time,” Martin said.

Most of them are also extremely involved at the school and in the community, she said.

Butler also noted that she’s met many young people who moved here after graduating from college and got jobs in the service industry. It’s not uncommon for residents to hold more than one job here, either, she said.

“It’s a lifestyle issue,” she said. “They want to live here.”

Urban counties close to Denver also show above-average — in the mid-70th percentile — employment for women. But the highest concentrations of working women in Colorado are in Routt, Grand and Gilpin counties — rural counties that also have strong tourism industries and which all have female employment rates of 85 percent.

In Pitkin County, 87 percent of male residents work, according to the study. The survey looked at 3,812 women and 4,339 men from Pitkin County.