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What’s Working: Colorado’s economic data shows a robust recovery. Coloradans, however, are uneasy.

Colorado Health Foundation asked 3,000 Coloradans and 88% said the cost of living is a "serious" issue. Plus: When $250,000 isn’t enough, Oprah invests in a Denver company.

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The signs pointing to Colorado’s recovering pandemic economy are optimistic. All the lost jobs have returned — and then some. The state’s unemployment rate is now at its lowest in two years. Businesses continue to move here, new business filings are still near record levels and the number of businesses in good standing is at an all-time high

But ask Coloradans how they feel and you may not hear the same optimism. That’s what the Colorado Health Foundation did. The organization regularly asks Coloradans how things are going and shares the results in its Pulse survey.

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

In its latest report, 88% of 2,985 Coloradans surveyed feel the rising cost of living is an “extremely serious” or “very serious problem.” Two years ago, 63% felt that way. Blame higher housing costs, but that’s been a growing concern in each of the survey’s three years. This year, Pulse asked about the tradeoffs Coloradans make to keep up with the increase in rent or mortgages. Jace Woodrum, the organization’s senior officer of public opinion insights, said he wasn’t surprised by the answers, which helped him understand the disconnect between robust economic data versus the reality for some Coloradans. 

“So often we’ll fault people. We’ll say, ‘So-and so can’t budget or they don’t manage their money well and that’s why they can’t pay the rent,’” Woodrum said. “And actually what we’re seeing is a third of people cutting back on food and health care in order to afford the rent or mortgage. We’re seeing about one-third of people working multiple jobs or more than they wanted to. And for renters, we had about a third who said, ‘I don’t tell my landlord about problems because I don’t want to be evicted.’”

It’s more expensive to live in Colorado today than a year ago. While government data shows average hourly earnings in Colorado rose 10% from last year, so have the prices of meat, dining out, gasoline and energy bills. Consumer prices in the mountain region, which includes Colorado, have risen 9.8% since April 2021, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics inflation data. Rents are up an average of $200 per month in two years in Colorado, according to Apartment List. And the median price of a house for sale is up $100,000 from a year ago, according to the Colorado Association of Realtors. 

A house for sale in Denver by Opendoor Brokerage on December 12, 2021. (Tamara Chuang, The Colorado Sun)

Higher prices are largely blamed on the ongoing supply chain issues and labor shortage to get food and other goods from source to destination, plus Russia’s war on Ukraine. Nationwide, prices for all consumer items rose 8.3%, with gasoline up 43.6% and electricity and natural gas up 13.7%. At-home food expenses were up 10.8%, with the cost of meat and other protein up 14.3%, and the cost of eating out up 8.7%.

The Pulse survey showed similar concerns. Half of those polled felt housing was the most concerning expense, followed by 38% who put food and groceries at the top and 30% who felt the most financial pain in fuel and gasoline bills. Nearly 2 out of every 5 respondents worried about buying food, compared to 1 in 5 in August 2020. It was an open-ended question so people could fill in the blank.

“Just think about the number of things people are feeling crunched by,” Woodrum said. “Last year, people were feeling crunched by housing, but all of these other factors were also playing in. Housing is not (just) a 2022 problem. But the inflation we’re seeing is just another layer of economic pressure that is moving people into more financial insecurity.”

Colorado Health Foundation also dug in by race, income and region. The results weren’t too surprising:

  • Lower-income households were much more worried about buying food, with more than half of Coloradans earning less than $75,000 checking the box. Approximately 16% who make more than $100,000 were also worried.
  • While 16% skipped a meal in the past 12 months because they couldn’t afford it, 38% of those earning less than $30,000 skipped a meal. By race, 39% of Native American and Indigeonous people also did, compared with 13% white and 22% all people of color.
  • The rising cost of living was considered by 88% as a “very serious” problem by all races and ethnicities, though a smaller percentage of Native Americans (73%) and Black Coloradans (76%) deemed it “very” or “extremely serious.”
  • Residents in Pueblo were the most concerned about food costs, at 52%. That compares with 33% of their neighbors in El Paso County, a few miles north. 

So, despite the robust economic data, why the gap?

“Some populations can get lost when we’re thinking about everything in terms of wages and work,” Woodrum said. “There are populations who live on fixed incomes and those incomes aren’t rising. We have people who live with disabilities, the seniors for whom there is no longer economic growth. … The data seems to suggest that the pandemic has hurt people who are already living on low income far more than it hurt higher-income people, further exaggerating the gap between the haves and the have nots.” 

Pedestrians cross Park Avenue at the intersection with Broadway Sunday, May 22 2022, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Colorado Health Foundation, which aims to improve health equity for low-income households and people of color, offered policy suggestions to address rising costs. Here’s the percent of respondents who feel these policies would be effective: 

  • 60% — Raise taxes on people making more than $500,000 a year to cover government services like housing, health care and education 
  • 59% — Require employers to raise pay and benefits for low- and middle-income workers
  • 59% — Make the government invest in jobs and local economies in communities that are struggling
  • 74% — Prevent landlords from raising rents too quickly
  • 71% — Require developers to build housing for lower-income earners
  • 57% — Reduce government regulations to speed up new housing

>> View report

Find out more: The Colorado Health Foundation is hosting two webinars this month to talk about the results. Listen in or ask your own questions:

  • Coloradans on Health and Well-being: Wednesday, June 8, 11 a.m. – 12 p.m.
  • Deep Dive on Critical Themes from the Survey: Wednesday, June 22, 10 – 11:30 a.m.
  • Register: English, Spanish
Take the What’s Working poll for 2022 at cosun.co/ww-inflation

When $250,000 isn’t enough

A survey by financial sites LendingClub and Pymnt.com found an problem plaguing the lower end of America’s top 10% of earners: Their $250,000 paycheck isn’t enough. About one-third who earn $200,000 to $250,000 live paycheck to paycheck, according to survey results.

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

This income group sees the same higher prices at the gas pump or grocery store as everyone else. But they often pay more for housing and have other financial commitments than those who earn much less, said Anuj Nayar, financial health officer at LendingClub, which provides financial services.

“What you tend to see is as you gain more income, you tend to have more financial obligations added to your plate, you end up getting more debt,” Nayar said. 

A survey of 4,000 Americans of all different income levels by LendingClub and PYMTS.com found that two-thirds live paycheck to paycheck. For those earning between $200,000 to $250,000, 36% live paycheck to paycheck. (Provided by LendingClub)

Living paycheck to paycheck can mean different things. For the most part, these higher earners pay their bills each month but have little discretionary income left. Fewer struggle to keep up, with about 12% who don’t pay all of their bills each month, according to the survey of 4,000 people. By comparison, 61% of U.S. consumers in all income brackets live paycheck to paycheck, with 22% unable to fully pay each month. 

“Inflation is playing a huge part in that,” he said. “You’ve got household expenses that are discretionary and household expenses that are not discretionary. For most Americans, putting gas in your car to get to and from work is not a discretionary expense.”

As anyone who’s filled up their tank lately knows, gas prices are up again. Another research firm, Yardeni Research, estimates that American households are now spending $5,000 a year on gasoline, up from $2,800 a year ago, CNBC reported.

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

“Breaking that down, doing exactly what you were doing before, that’s $200 (more) a month,” said Nayar, who lives in San Francisco, where gas prices averaged $6.50 a gallon on Friday. “I was in my local grocery store and eggs were almost five bucks. Milk, the same thing. Obviously, with all the things happening with the supply chain, meat is going through a massive explosion in cost. These are just core essential costs, like feeding yourself at home.”

He won’t predict what will happen next, but he’ll be watching the result of an anticipated Fed increase in interest rates later this month, as well as watching whether more retailers blame declines in customers’ discretionary spending for revenue declines, as Target did, which sent its stock down last month. 

Consumers who carry monthly debt from credit cards or car loans should use this period to lock their rates or shop around for a better deal, as interest rates are likely to rise. And those who have savings should look for banks that pay higher interest, he said. 

“I can’t think of one person who I’ve talked to in the last few months that isn’t feeling the pressure,” he added. “As you go up the income stream, you have more flexibility in how to manage these things. But you’re still feeling (inflation) across the board. The further down the income stream you go, obviously, the more painful and more abrupt and the less flexibility you have.”

Inflation watch:

The prices are displayed above the various grades of gasoline available at a Conoco station Saturday, May 21, 2022, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

→ Colorado gas prices UP again: According to the AAA gas-price tracker, the state’s average gallon of regular gas cost $4.49 on Friday, up 25 cents from a week ago, 46 cents from a month ago and $1.36 from a year ago. The national average was $4.76 on Friday. Demand from Memorial Day travelers fueled the rise, according to AAA.   >> AAA gas price check

→ Same house, $400 more per month: The past two years have been rough for prospective homeowners to land a house if they couldn’t pay cash. And now, even as home sales slow, it’s more expensive as 30-year fixed mortgage rates are above 5%. CNBC did the math in April and the median-priced home in the U.S., at $408,100, the monthly mortgage was $1,752.62, or $400 more than a year ago for the same house, but at a 3% interest rate. >> CNBC

  • While we’re at it: In the Denver area, where the median home sales price was $675,000 in April, mortgage payments are roughly $43,000 a year, according to Bankrate’s mortgage calculator

Potato, potahto? Verizon wireless customers face a 244% hike in administrative fees starting June 16, to $3.30 from $1.35. Certain Verizon Business customers are getting a new $2.20 monthly “Economic Adjustment Charge” the same day. But the carrier says it’s not because of inflation. Verizon won’t say whether the fee will be reduced if inflation reverses but it offered this response in a statement: “Many businesses in the global market and in our industry have taken similar actions in adjusting their prices in response to economic conditions.”

  • Meanwhile, AT&T is raising some of its per-line fees by $6 to $12, Bloomberg reports. And T-Mobile taunted its rivals by offering up to $1,000 to AT&T and Verizon customers who switch.

Other working bits

Guild Education adds Oprah as investor. The Denver-based company has blown past unicorn status and is now valued at $4.4 billion with its latest $175 million investment round. Guild also said Oprah Winfrey is now an investor. The company helps service-oriented businesses provide education benefits to employees. It’s partnered with the largest employers in nearly every industry imaginable, from Walmart and Chipotle to Hilton and The Walt Disney Company. It’s planning to go after health care and financial services with its latest funding, led by Wellington Management, an investment firm in Boston. >> Crunchbase, DBJ

→ United Airlines expands flight school. With a shortage of pilots nationwide, United Airlines announced this week that it’s adding a four-story facility to expand its pilot-training operations in east Denver. When complete, the Flight Training Center will add 12 advanced flight simulators and help train its 12,000 active pilots plus new ones — United plans to hire another 10,000 pilots by 2030. Sun reporter Jesse Paul covers the expansion. >> Story


If you’ve gotten this far, you must be really interested in our local economy. Thanks for reading! ~tamara


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