September 27, 2015

One Of The Greatest Threats To The U.S. Economy

A weekend topic on two parts of a series from the Post Independent in Colorado. “For a look at one of the greatest threats to our region’s economy — and perhaps to the U.S. economy — meet Krystal Wu and her fiancé, Matt Miller. Both with master’s degrees, in 2013 they accepted teaching positions at Roaring Fork High School in Carbondale. Each took a $10,000 pay cut from teaching jobs in Oakland, California, which they left because of the high cost of living. ‘We figured that the cost of living here would be proportionate to that pay cut,’ Wu said.”

“But prices driven up by the area’s overall desirability and proximity to Aspen proved to be a strain for the young teachers, as they are for any middle-income worker. ‘We love it here. I love my job and I love my students,’ Wu said, but added: ‘We didn’t know what we were getting into. We moved here from the Bay Area because that was exorbitantly expensive. But we found that we were paying a similar price for our apartment here as we were in Oakland — $1,500 for a two bedroom. But we were making $20,000 a year more in Oakland.’”

“Although together they earned $80,000 a year, Wu, 27, and Miller, 37, also are paying off $48,000 in graduate school loans. So the couple this summer quit the valley. The University of Idaho beckoned, where Miller is now teaching — and housing is half as expensive. ‘If we stayed here, we would have to ask our parents for help,’ said Wu. ‘There’s no way we could afford to buy a house with the money that we have, and we want to start a family soon.’”

“The Roaring Fork Valley attracts big money along with promises of life in paradise. Despite the glamour of Aspen and a thriving recreation economy, Garfield and Pitkin counties remain essentially rural places with resort prices. Across the country, the middle class is losing ground. But what is happening in the Roaring Fork and Colorado river valleys makes it difficult to attract and retain the people essential to nurturing and protecting communities, such as police officers, nurses and teachers.”

“Teacher and police pay in the region are comparable to that in cities of various sizes around the country, Post Independent research found. Out of the department’s staff of 31, only eight or nine live in Glenwood. Glenwood Police Chief Terry Wilson consistently faces unaffordable housing headaches when he recruits. To move the hiring process along, Wilson acts a bit as a real estate agent himself. ‘We show potential recruits ads in the newspaper, put them in touch with local real estate companies. They need to get the sticker shock out of their systems. They need to do a realistic and comprehensive look at what it’s going cost them to provide housing for themselves and their family. I’ve seen a lot a lot of jaws drop when they do that.’”

“Eighteen months ago, Amy Wright, her husband and their 5-year-old son relocated to the valley because Jason had been offered a job at an Aspen architectural firm. But the small family quickly found out that they could not financially swing it on one salary. ‘When we moved here and things were not shaping up financially, my husband said that I really needed to get a part-time job,’ Wright said.”

“Wright, 44, who holds two master’s degrees and had taught in the Massachusetts public schools for more than six years, took a part-time job as a barista at Starbucks. ‘If we decide to stay in the valley, I’m going to have to take two part-time jobs. I’m kind of dreading that,’ she said.”

“Every day, Wright feels the weight of her troubled finances. ‘My student loans are in the 30s. And since moving to the valley, my credit card debt is in the 30s too. Our rental apartment is just under $2,000, but we have a mortgage that we’re paying for our house in Albuquerque. We rent that out, but we’re upside down $400 a month there. We have to make at least a $100,000. I need to make over $30,000.’”

“The Wright family does not have the time or the money to enjoy all the pleasures of their rich surroundings. And forget about the toys — the skis, the snowboards, the bikes. ‘It’s beautiful,’ Wright said, ‘But it’s a resort. We live in a resort. How do you afford all this?’”

Bits Bucket for September 27, 2015

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