Red Mountain homes

Income inequality in Pitkin County is the state’s highest, with combined data from Pitkin and Eagle counties not far behind, according to a new study. Homes on Red Mountain (pictured) coexist with modest government- subsidized housing.

Pitkin County has the highest income inequality in the state of Colorado, with the top 1 percent making 72.2 times more than the bottom 99 percent, according to a just-published report from the Economic Policy Institute, a think tank based in Washington D.C.

In data from “The New Gilded Age: Income Inequality in the U.S. by State, Metropolitan Area and County,” the average income of the top 1 percent in Pitkin County was $6,620,969. The average income of the bottom 99 percent was $91,714. The measure used was household income.

It also showed the “Glenwood Springs metro area” as the most unequal regional area within Colorado. That was defined as the sum of data from Pitkin and Garfield counties, said Mark Price, the co-author of the study with Estelle Sommeiller. They reported that income of the top 1 percent was $2,968,276. The average income of the bottom 99 percent in this region was $66,015.

“The New Gilded Age” was published in July. 

“I’m not surprised we are number one,” said Pitkin County Commissioner Patti Clapper, who sees wide income inequality among her constituents.

“I see this total flip side, people coming in for land-use applications who have a significant amount of funds,” Clapper said Thursday. Then she sees the growing need for assistance on the low end. 

Pitkin County is requesting an increase in its Healthy Community Fund, which generates $2.3 million annually, but which will expire if voters don’t approve its reauthorization this fall. Even that sum is insufficient to serve the growing needs, the county’s human services director said recently.

The county’s purchase this year of the 76.3-acre Phillips Trailer Park land on Lower River Road in Snowmass will offer many long-term residents a stable place to live on land that has accommodated below-market rents for generations, Clapper pointed out.

The parcel was seen as vulnerable to second-home development and could potentially have impacted about 60 mobile homes that would be difficult if not impossible to move, Clapper said. It had been owned by the Phillips’ since the 1930s.

“That’s an effort Pitkin County put out there to keep it from going to one family,” she said. 

Clapper also said she believes that “a lot of people still haven’t recovered from the recession” in Pitkin County. The commissioner experienced it on a personal level and with her family, she said.

But the county’s egalitarian qualities also shouldn’t be overlooked, she emphasized.

“What I find interesting is I understand that inequality in our community, in many cases I don’t feel it makes a difference,” Clapper said. “People still get along with people across the board and in the middle.”

The ability to sit on the lawn for Aspen Music Festival concerts and Jazz Aspen Snowmass shows were examples she offered of the shared experiences.

“This community does provide the diversity of opportunity despite the diversity of income,” Clapper said.

But those unequal economic forces are also a prime generator behind housing prices in Pitkin County, which have soared since the economic downturn as the remaining reasonably priced housing stock was targeted as tear downs.

Colorado ranks 20th of the 50 states in income inequality. Statewide, the top 1 percent take home 17.2 percent of all the income in Colorado. That information is noted under a report subhead, “The Unequal States of America.”

“Income trends have varied from state to state, and within states. But a pattern is apparent: the growth of top 1 percent incomes,” according to the report’s forward.

Inequality at the national level, according to Price and Sommeiller’s data, is as follows:

  • Minimum annual income to be in top 1 percent: $421,926
  • Average annual income of top 1 percent: $1,316,985
  • Average annual income of the bottom 99 percent: $50,107
  • Ratio of top 1 percent to bottom 99 percent: 26.3 x

Madeleine Osberger is a Contributing Editor for Aspen Daily News. She can be reached at madski@aspendailynews.com or on Twitter @Madski99