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Owning your shelter is a core human desire. Yet Colorado’s soaring costs mean a hard worker earning a “normal” wage can’t remotely afford Colorado’s “normal” house price. Median wages have risen 37% in recent years.
Yet the number of work hours each month it would take even a credentialed medical professional like Justice Wilson to pay for a median mortgage has gone up 116%. In her words, and in snapshots from her busy life, this is Wilson’s high-cost story.
Justice Wilson, 28, a medical assistant at Kaiser Permanente, prepares an exam room at the start of her shift Monday in Longmont. Wilson visits with dozens of patients daily, as well as manages emails and other caretaking duties at the clinic. Her goal is to someday work as a nursing educator. (Photos by Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun via Report for America)
I currently live in an apartment with — it’s myself and my three kids. And it is quite expensive to live there. I would love to own a home but I just can’t do it on my own and I don’t qualify for a lot of the assistance.
Our new ongoing series put reporters with all kinds of Coloradans to talk about their challenges, their fears and their solutions to the rising costs of living here. READ MORE
I make $22.98 an hour.
I make too much working at Kaiser (to qualify for assistance). It’s not, like, a lot more. The last time I applied I was just $75 over, which was just heartbreaking.
ABOVE, LEFT: Wilson prepares an exam room at the start of her shift. “Sometimes people associate a financial need with people who are lazy or don’t want to work — that’s not always the case,” she said. “Sometimes it’s really just a single mom who works too many hours.”
Between November 2015 and December 2022, the average hourly wage increased 37% from $28.26 to $38.80. However, due to the rapidly increasing cost of housing, the number of hours of work required to cover the mortgage payment on an average priced house increased from 48 hours in 2013 to 104 hours in 2022.
My rent in Firestone is currently $2,175. I make too much to qualify for any assistance, but not enough to totally pay all of my bills and break even. I’m not even asking for money to be left over at the end of the month any more. I just want to break even, and I haven’t done that for probably two years now.
For a while there I was using credit cards but now my credit card debt, it was out of control for a while. I’ve gotten it back under control and stopped using it for the most part. I just have to choose which bills are going to be paid in full, and what will be partial, and what just isn’t going to be paid at all on time.
A photo of Keston, 6, decorates Wilson’s desk. Though she sometimes struggles financially to pay rent and budget for groceries, she prioritizes time with her three kids. The other two are 2 and 4. “We should support them emotionally. I should fill their cup just as much as I’m trying to fill my own. If you’re good at math, or art, let’s work on it. That’s my job — is to support and help nourish things that they like, so that they can be functional adults,” she said. “I remember every soccer game as a kid, every choir concert when my dad wasn’t able to make it . . . not what my cleats looked like or any of that. But do I remember them showing up or not showing up? Yes.”
I do DoorDash and Instacart and GrubHub on the side when I can. I mean, it doesn’t make me a lot of money. It usually just covers gas, or my sons’ lunch bills.
I had looked into doing like a condo or a townhouse because I just can’t afford a full blown house at this point.
And even a condo, the mortgage that was projected for me was $2,500, $2,600 a month, and that is just not reasonable for me at this point. It may not sound like that much more than my rent, but an extra $400 a month? I have no idea where I would even get that right now.
And that was probably three years ago.
(Three years ago, mortgage rates were about 3%. They are currently at 8%. That difference would push a similar home above $4,000 a month.)
I’m incredibly grateful for the wage increase after the strike.
(But she’s not expecting to find a house.)
I still won’t be swimming in money by any means, but it will take quite a bit of stress off, and I feel like I’ll be able to stop DoorDash or GrubHub. But I won’t be able to stop both. So that will really be nice for myself and my family. Because I miss out on quite a bit with my kiddos.
ABOVE: Wilson’s desk is decorated with a union pin and figurines from her kids. Kaiser employees of all regions recently participated in a three-day strike, the largest recorded strike in the U.S. medical field, after months of negotiation on wage increases and aid through staffing shortages. BELOW: “Most months I decide, ‘All right, well, this is a bill that’s being paid with a second check or first check,’” Wilson said. “Rent, the light bill, and groceries are three things that I make sure I’m paying.”
Reporting: Michael Booth Photography: Olivia Sun Design: Danika Worthington
This is part of the High Cost of Colorado series. Read more >>
Michael Booth is The Sun’s environment writer, and co-author of The Sun’s weekly climate and health newsletter The Temperature. He and John Ingold host the weekly Sun-Up podcast on The Temperature topics every Thursday. He is co-author with...
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