Pay Aspen workers more
Rick Carroll wrote an important story this week on labor issues in Aspen and other Colorado ski towns (“Labor pains hit Aspen as housing options dwindled,” Jan. 3, The Aspen Times).
The average wage in Aspen was lower than the state average but higher than other ski towns. However, real wages are likely higher in other ski towns when adjusted for Aspen’s long commute. Employment in Aspen was around 11,000. According to Carroll, there were 1,027 openings. In other words, Aspen’s employment shortage is around 10 percent.
A cursory review of the situation in other ski resorts, such as Jackson Hole, Park City, Vail or Breckenridge, does not seem to reveal such gaps.
A day later, national news organizations reported a new record for Americans quitting jobs, most in hospitality and other low-wage sectors. One researcher told The New York Times, “This Great Resignation story is really more about lower-wage workers finding new opportunities in a reopening labor market and seizing them.”
Many in Aspen see housing as a key issue. Announcement of “The Fields” development highlight the issue, as does the suggestion that the lumber yard be built for short-term rentals where tenants can have neither pets nor cars.
However, visits and discussions in Jackson, Wyoming, and Bozeman, Montana, suggest housing alone will not solve the problem. The Great Resignation has shown that workers want more, particularly reasonably priced restaurants and bars as well as recreation facilities. Workers are also seeking more fulfilling jobs. Aspen can no longer house these, except for a few who are willing to sacrifice gains from the increase in home equity, as Meredith Carroll explained (“It’s happening. I’m melting,” commentary, Jan. 5, The Aspen Times).
As a consequence, Bozeman and Jackson look better — as former Aspen workers living in these towns say. Just building more affordable housing will not solve the problem without offering other affordable amenities.
Instead, the solution rests on much higher wages. Aspen can address its labor shortage by boosting average wages at the low end of the scale significantly, possibly by 25% to 50%, and keeping them well above other areas.
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I express my concern about Pitkin County commissioner and chair of Pitkin’s Board of Health Greg Poschman’s statement at the Jan.13, 2022, Board of Health meeting.