OUR VIEW

Bridge the gap

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Overall, Census Bureau statistics released earlier this week showed Steamboat is a healthy, growing community. Household income has risen rapidly, ranking Steamboat not only among the highest in the state, but also among the highest in the nation.

At the same time, the statistics also showed the community faces a challenge in closing the gap between salaries and housing costs, which have soared even more dramatically than income.

First the good news. In 1990, the median household income was just $29,363, about $1,000 below state average. Ten years later, the city's median household income was $54,647, about $7,000 above state average. Household income grew at a rate of 86 percent, among the fastest growing in the state. Per-capita, family and retirement income all rose at similar rates.

To put it in better perspective, Steamboat now ranks among the top 13 percent of all cities, towns and places in the United States in terms of household income. Ten years ago, the city was barely in the top third.

Income growth has outpaced population growth in the city, which grew by 51 percent in the 1990s to 10,115.

More noteworthy data:

The number of households in Steamboat earning $100,00 or more increased from 128 to 738, a rise of 476 percent. The Census Bureau reported no households earning $200,000 or more in 1990; now there are 144.

What the household income numbers show is that Steamboat has enjoyed an influx of wealth. That's a good thing. But household income which includes investment, retirement and other income can sometimes mask below-average wages. That appears to be the case in Steamboat.

Even though household income is well above state average, full-time salaries for men and women $35,536 and $28,244, respectively are below state averages of $38,446 and $29,324.

Salaries grew at a slower pace than household income and much slower than housing costs. The median value of owner-occupied homes in Steamboat grew from $119,000 in 1990 to $308,000 in 2000, a 157 percent increase.

There is nothing wrong with home values increasing. Many longtime Steamboat residents have benefited greatly from that increase, netting equity that no 401(k) plan can match. Still, it behooves us to try to close the gap between the wages people earn and what houses cost.

That's the community's challenge finding innovative ways to affect housing costs and salaries in such a way that working families can afford to live here.

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