About Aspen’s labor pains
A major problem with economics occurs when there are several correct answers. The Elizabeth Milias column of Jan. 16 highlights the issue (“The ‘L’ word,” commentary, The Aspen Times).
Aspen is in the “post-growth stage” because the population did not increase. Milias is correct in regard to the data. However, the comment begs the question: Was the absence of growth caused by the lack of housing, or was the lack of growth caused because people did not want to move to Aspen?
The increase in housing prices answers the question. Prices rose to limit growth.
The absence of growth leads to a second question: Can Aspen’s economy survive at the current population level? The answer to the question is no.
There are over 1,000 job openings in Aspen. Aspen needs to attract workers from down valley. However, those living there will not come without large financial incentives. As a result, cooks, dishwashers, hotel workers, etc. are being paid at rates that are well above the national and state averages. Businesses that cannot afford to pay the higher salaries are closing, and the remaining restaurants must charge much higher prices.
The lack of relatively close housing even affects Aspen Skiing Co. The individuals needed to run the mountains often find better alternatives in Wyoming, Utah and Montana.
Perhaps Mark Hunt has the solution. Tear down more of the buildings housing restaurants and stores. The demand for labor declines as restaurants and stores close, bringing the market back toward equilibrium.
This is the outcome that will occur if Milias’ proposal is followed. She writes “Aspen is generations ahead of other mountain resort communities” in adjusting to current conditions. She is correct if she means Aspen only wants to be a playground for billionaires. Whether Skico can get the people it needs is an open question. Who cares?