Demographer: Eagle County can’t sustain high-cost, low-wage model
By the numbers:
• 12,000: Estimated Eagle County population of people 65 and older by 2030.
• 1,871: Eagle County population increase from 2010 to 2016.
• 90,000: Estimated Eagle County population by 2040.
• 1.7 percent: Current Eagle County unemployment rate.
Source: State Demography Office, demography.dola.colorado.gov
EDWARDS — While the Front Range is growing quickly, population growth has been more subdued in Eagle County. That isn’t necessarily a good thing.
Elizabeth Garner, of the Colorado State Demography Office, keeps track of all kinds of numbers regarding population, employment and migration. Speaking at a Wednesday event sponsored by the Vail Symposium and Vail Valley Partnership, Garner gave the audience plenty to ponder, particularly about who’s coming to the valley and, perhaps more important, who’s staying.
Taking care of Boomers
One of the most significant groups expected to stay in the valley is people ages 65 and older. Currently, that part of the county’s population is a bit more than 4,000 people, but that figure is expected to nearly triple by 2030.
Every year, about 550 people in the county celebrate their 65th birthdays, and only about 150 of those residents subsequently leave. Eagle County has a good strategy for aging policy, Garner said, which is among the factors contributing to more and more residents staying in the valley as they age.
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As Baby Boomers — people born between roughly 1946 and 1964 — age out of the workforce, the question becomes not only who will fill those jobs, but who will provide the services those older residents require.
If Garner’s forecast holds, then the county will have a need for roughly 3,000 jobs to take care of its older population. As with many professions, a lot of the entry-level jobs will be filled by people between 20 and 30 years old — the age group that accounts for the bulk of people now coming to Eagle County.
Moving up the age chart a few years, people in their 30s and 40s are the most likely to leave the county, which isn’t good news for the collective workforce, as workers in that age range tend to fill the next job tier.
“We need exceptional 45-year-olds,” Garner said, adding that local employers need to grow that group and get those employees to stay in the valley, particularly to move into positions vacated as the older generation retires.
Housing a factor
Summit County’s job creation has outstripped that of Eagle County and has passed its previous peak set in 2007. Eagle County, by comparison, still has fewer jobs than it did in 2007.
Vail Valley Partnership CEO Chris Romer speculated that job-creation pace may be due in part to Summit County’s aggressive housing program, which has built or acquired more than 400 deed-restricted homes in the past several years.
Housing will be crucial to keeping younger workers in the valley, particularly those who are looking to buy a first home or a home for a young, growing family. Older residents who stay in their homes — and live longer than people of similar ages 30 years ago — put further pressure on housing for younger residents.
Wages can’t keep up
Another problem with future growth, in Eagle County and much of the rest of the region, is that wages aren’t keeping up with similar positions on the Front Range. A recent study by the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments — a group that covers essentially the northwest quarter of the state — shows that the average annual salary in the region is more than $13,000 per year below the state average.
Colorado is one of the most expensive states to live in, Garner said. Eagle County, with its current atmosphere, simply can’t sustain its current high-cost, low-wage model.
“We need to address that,” Romer said.
Then there’s the fact that other nearby states have lower — sometimes far lower — costs of living.
“Utah is a much better deal,” Garner said.
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, email@example.com and @scottnmiller.