We are so very fortunate to live in Denver, Colorado. Nestled up against the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains – our weather, our landscape, our neighborhoods, our vibrant cultural sector and our …
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We are so very fortunate to live in Denver, Colorado. Nestled up against the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains – our weather, our landscape, our neighborhoods, our vibrant cultural sector and our resilient economy has us being held up as the envy of other communities from coast to coast.
Many parts of the U.S. are awaiting the turnaround they’ve heard is under way elsewhere, but here in the Queen City of the Plains the skyline is once again pierced by construction cranes moving major projects forward, declaring that the Mile High City is back on track, and it’s time to “Laissez les bons temps rouler!” once again.
But please know that not everyone is sharing equally in the rebounding economy. The laissez is not all that fair. While some are finding their fortunes propelled into the stratosphere, many others are having trouble keeping their feet, as the ground beneath them threatens to give way and swallow them whole.
Statistics show the “haves” are having a pretty good time right now, while those that “have less” or the “have nots” ... well, not so much.
Those at the upper end of the economic spectrum, whose net worth is heavily dependent on real estate and stock market fortunes, are doing much better than those whose balance sheet is more dependent on middle class consumption (retailers) or a workaday paycheck. A recent article in the LA Times explained that, “Wealthier Americans are far more likely to own stocks, and household assets in equities have more than doubled since 2008 to $20.6 trillion earlier this year.”
Retailers are seizing on this growth pattern by devoting an ever-larger part of their marketing budget to upscale consumer spending. This is evidenced by growing sales of higher-end appliances, automobiles and restaurant meals, and the flattening of consumer goods that appeal mainly to the middle class.
While unemployment has dropped to near 6 percent nationwide, and the nearly 9 million jobs lost in 2008 and 2009 have been recovered, it has not been an apples-for- apples swap. Higher paying positions in construction and manufacturing are down by more than 3 million since 2008, while lower paying jobs in restaurants, retail and the like are up an equal amount.
This off-kilter tipping of the economic scales keeps the unemployment rate impressively low, but results in less disposable income being directed to the coffers of businesses serving the middle to lower income sectors. Denver diners are gobbling up all the sushi they can wrap their mouths around, as traditional lower range restaurant chains like Red Lobster and Olive Garden are fighting to stay afloat.
And the increases in Denver’s housing market have many families celebrating their good fortune as they watch their net worth climb to dizzying heights that in the past they might only have imagined.
But, while you’re celebrating that good fortune, again, be aware not everyone is sharing equally in the bounty. Skyrocketing property values have taken an entire level of would-be homeowners waiting oh-so-patiently on the margin of getting into the homebuying market, and pushed them farther and farther away from grabbing their share of the American dream.
And if you’re among the numerous Denverites paying each month for a home that belongs to somebody else, the historically high rental market has you devoting a higher percentage of your income than ever before to your monthly rent payment.
The more of your income you must devote to your rent, the less you can stick in the bank toward a future down payment. The higher property values rise, the more of a down payment you’re going to need. Not a promising picture, eh?
How in the world does a young couple get even a tiny piece of the Rock-ies on which to build their life?
Let’s look a little bit farther down the food chain, and consider the plight of the least fortunate of our residents, those who are homeless – living in cars, abandoned buildings, tents, shelters – or bunking with friends or family, a very short fall to being literally out on the streets.
Won’t the renewed economy help these folks to get a leg up and out of their perilous situation?
Again we say, “for some.”
The page one article on homelessness points out that the reduction in higher paying jobs has many more talented folks taking jobs at a lower skill level and a lower pay scale than they would have accepted in the past, just to get some income coming in. Thus, those in the lower reaches of the work force with spotty resumes and a low skill level, are finding the jobs they might have previously been able to corral have moved beyond their reach.
And as St. Francis Center’s Executive Director, Tom Luehrs, explains, “The least capable are getting pushed even farther down, finding even less opportunity. They need housing and they need jobs, in that order. About 40 percent of the people who are homeless are working. They’re working at jobs that don’t pay enough or in situations where they can’t find housing that matches the income they’re making. They end up in shelters.”
City Councilwoman Robin Kniech recently spearheaded an effort to rexamine Denver’s affordable housing ordinance, shepherding a bill of modest improvements past a divided Council. If there is anything that will help someone break free of the poverty cycle it would be getting them into affordable home ownership. Not the type of sub-prime scam that helped bring down our economy, but truly affordable homes. We look forward to the continuing dialogue on how our city can make even more important strides to affordable housing in both the purchase and rental markets, and we urge the Hancock administration to redouble its efforts to help our homeless.
To be clear, we do not ignore the clear evidence that the economy is on the uptick here in Denver, and across the land. We are just hoping that it will not be too much longer before the rising tide raises all the ships. Not just the yachts, but the skiffs as well.
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