Eagle County wages still lag behind Colorado average
Workers in the Vail Valley earn $11,000 less than state average
Wage survey highlights:
- Jobs: +1.9%
- Unemployment rate: 2.4% (Feb. 2019)
- Regional Population: 119,779
- Fastest growing towns (2010-2017)
- Silverthorne (+18.8%) - Pop. 4,639
- Frisco (+15.9%) - Pop. 2,977
- Granby (+12.0%) - Pop. 1,813
- Gypsum (+11.1%) - Pop. 6,926
- Basalt (+9.1%) - Pop. 3,849
- 5-Year Job growth in Key Industries (2013-2018):
- Construction (+32.3%)
- Healthcare (+22.8%)
- Accommodations & Food Services (+10.9%)
- Professional, Technical, Scientific (+16.3%)
- Management of Companies & Enterprises (+64.5%)
- Average Annual Wage:
- Eagle County: $46,124 (+3.4)
- Grand County: $36,920 (+4.7%)
- Jackson County: $39,416 (+11.8%)
- Pitkin County: $50,700 (+0.2%)
- Summit County: $43,004 (+4.8%)
- State of Colorado: $57,408 (+3.5%)
The data is from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages, Q3 2018. The full report can be found on the NWCCOG EDD website, as can past reports.
EAGLE COUNTY — If you work in Eagle County, your annual wages went up 3.4% last year but your paycheck still lags more than $11,000 behind the state average.
The Northwest Colorado Council of Governments’ latest wage survey found that in Eagle County, workers earn an average of $46,124 a year. That’s up 3.4% year-over-year, but it’s still $11,000 less than the state average of $57,408.
Tourism jobs pay poorly
Local average wages lag because the regional economy is dominated by the tourism industry and the low-wage jobs it tends to generate, Rachel Lunney, the NWCCOG’s Economic Development District Director explained.
In Eagle County, 45% of all jobs are tied to the tourism industry in some way — accommodation and food services (8,061 jobs), retail (3,560 jobs) arts/entertainment/recreation (3,287 jobs). The ratios hold true in three of the four other NWCCOG counties: Pitkin, Summit and Grand. Across the region, 48% of the jobs fall into that sector, Lunney said.
“A quarter of Eagle County’s jobs are in accommodations/food service sector,” Lunney said.
Better-paying jobs are growing
The good news is that the region’s five fastest growing job sectors are higher-paying professionals.
“We are seeing some positive growth in higher-paying sectors. That’s encouraging and speaks to some diversification of our regional economy,” Lunney said.
Job numbers outside the tourism industry have leaped during the past five years, including:
- Management jobs up 64.5%
- Manufacturing jobs up 40.6 percent
- Construction jobs up 32.3%
- Transportation and warehousing jobs up 29.5%
- Health care up 22.8%
Health care jobs pay around $56,000 annually, compared to arts/entertainment/recreation jobs that pay $32,344 in Eagle County.
While local wages lag the state average, the number of Eagle County jobs rose 3% to 33,033 in 2018.
Across the NWCCOG’s five counties — Eagle, Summit, Pitkin, Jackson
“We’re dealing with full employment and then some,” Lunney said.
The drive to affordability
Besides tourism, the five counties share the workers that make it work, and the commutes they’re forced to make.
“A significant amount of our workforce doesn’t necessarily reside in our five counties,” Lunney said.
Many Lake County residents commute to Pitkin, Eagle and Summit counties. Many Park County residents commute over Hoosier Pass to Summit County and Breckenridge.
High housing costs drive many of those residents to drive, says a 2018 Housing Demand Study.
“As households stretch to find and retain housing in a tight market, the proportion of their income spent on housing increases, leaving less for food, health care, childcare, transportation, and retirement savings,” that study says.
When a household spends more than 30% of its income on housing, it’s considered “cost burdened.” If that’s more than 50% they’re “severely cost burdened,” the study says.
The lower your income, the more likely you are to spend a higher percent on housing, the study says. About 64% of all households that earn less than 60% of the area median income are cost burdened; a third are severely cost burdened.
Of renters, 38% are cost burdened, compared to 10% of owners.
About 2,000 midvalley households (about a quarter) are cost burdened. About 21% of down valley households are, and 19% of up valley households, the 2018 study said.
Amid a challenging debut, the new whitewater park in Eagle made quite a splash during its opening season in the summer of 2019.