Steamboat Springs The service sector of Northwest Colorado's economy is growing faster than other areas of employment, and studies suggest the trend could be feeding a widening gap between the wages earned by women and men in Routt and Moffat counties.
Women hold the majority of the region's service-sector jobs, which typically pay between $9 and $15 an hour. As the number of service jobs grows, the gap between men's and women's wages widens, and more people toil for earnings that never quite catch up to the number that constitutes a living wage in this region.
The repercussions felt throughout the communities of Northwest Colorado will be up for discussion in Steamboat Springs on Thursday and in Craig on Oct. 20, when Yampa Valley Partners hosts its 2005 Leadership Summit.
Audrey Danner, executive director of Yampa Valley Part--ners, said the effects of wage disparity, the concentration of women in service-sector jobs and the gap between earned income and the living wages all work in concert. They impact different facets of the broader community up and down the Yampa Valley.
"In general, we see increased demand for subsidized childcare, many single female parents working more than one job," Danner said. "We see shared housing arrangements and single female heads of households and their children living in poverty as the result of this gender wage gap."
The wage gap is more than perception. A study based on the 2000 census by Boulder-based research company RRC Associates concluded that women earn 59.2 percent of what men earn in Moffat County and 71.8 percent of what men earn in Routt County -- not necessarily for comparable positions. That gap is greater than the gap found statewide and nationwide.
Significantly, a study about how much its costs to keep a household afloat in this region shows hourly wages in the service sector lagging behind what is needed to live here. The Colorado Small Business Resource Center in Steamboat, in cooperation with Yampa Valley Partners, determined the hourly wage necessary to meet basic expenses for a single parent with one child in Steamboat at $19.98. In Craig, that figure is $16 an hour.
The study took into account annual expenditures in 12 categories, including food, utilities, clothing, transportation, entertainment and rental housing. The study allowed that two-person household $1,362 for entertainment, but housing costs for a two-bedroom apartment were $12,600, and childcare consumed a staggering $10,902.
Bump the size of the family to four people (two children and a three-bedroom rental) and the living wage in Steamboat is $36.04 an hour, or $75,000 annually. In Craig, the living wage for that family of four is $29.83 an hour.
The living wage study is included in the 2005-06 Com--munity Indicators report. Danner stressed that Yampa Valley Partners has not set out to advocate change in its Indicators project -- for example, the organization is not suggesting that somehow, local employers must raise the wages they pay their employees. Instead, Danner said, Yampa Valley Partners wants to raise awareness among community leaders and foster active discussions about the change reshaping life in the valley
As important as recognizing the trends pointed out by the Indicators project, Danner said, is fostering a spirit of collaboration.
"It's important that we talk to each other, and it's important how we talk to each other," she said.
-- To reach Tom Ross, call 871-4205 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org