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The housing shortage in North Central Colorado is making it difficult for lower-wage employees who work in the urban core to afford housing near their place of employment. When it comes to housing costs, nearly one-third of metro Denver residents were considered “cost-burdened” in 2017—meaning they spent more than 30% of their gross income on their rent or mortgage.

Because of rising housing costs, the region has experienced an emerging trend of residents moving outside of the metro area often farther from their place of work. In fact, data from WorkLife show that our clients have been gradually living farther from their employer, with the biggest shift happening between 2016 to 2017.

While workers continue to move away from Denver in pursuit of more housing options, what’s considered “affordable” can quickly change when transportation costs and the challenges associated with living outside of the city’s urban core are taken into account.

1. Transportation is the third most costly household expense following housing and childcare.

Almost 80% of metro Denver residents commute to work by car, with more than 20% spending an hour or longer to get to their jobs. When adding up the cost of gas, insurance, car payment, tolls, parking, and routine maintenance, the average worker can spend more than $7,500 per year on transportation alone. For a household of two working adults, the costs are even higher; they can expect to pay just as much for transportation as they do for childcare.


Expense

Avg. cost for 2 adults & 1 child

Housing

$17,016

Childcare

$9,133

Transportation

$9,011

Food

$8,154

Medical

$6,615


Source: MIT Living Wage Calculator

With the average WorkLife client making just over $18 per hour, transportation expenses can cause significant financial strain, particularly when coupled with the cost of housing. Nearly half of WorkLife clients reported that financial concerns and stress were their biggest challenges to stable employment last year—closely mirroring the national average of 60% of U.S. workers reporting that financial stress affects their job performance.

2. Lack of convenient public transit leaves workers with few options when the unexpected happens.

While more than 95% of metro Denver residents live near some type of public transit, only 20% live near high frequency transportation (running every 15 minutes). The accessibility and convenience of public transportation becomes more difficult when employees move farther outside of the metro area to find affordable housing options. If workers don’t live near high frequency transportation, their commute times are often longer than they would be if they drove, causing them to pay more for extended childcare hours, among other less tangible losses like less time with family.

Additionally, lack of convenient public transit leaves workers with little to no options for getting to work when the unexpected happens; dead battery and flat tires are inevitable. This is especially true for those who live in a one-car household. Last year, nearly 25% of WorkLife clients expressed that unreliable transportation was a barrier to them getting to and from work.

3. Living outside of a city’s urban core increases the likelihood of childcare breakdowns.

When families move outside of a city’s urban core, they are less likely to live near affordable, quality childcare options. More than 40% of below-average income families live in childcare deserts in Colorado, meaning they have no childcare options or there are more than three times as many children than childcare slots. Because it’s harder for these families to find reliable childcare, they are more likely to experience childcare breakdowns, resulting in them showing up late and/or leaving work early, needing to alter shift schedules, or not coming into work entirely.

Childcare breakdowns across the country result in approximately 4.3 days of missed work every six months, which translates to nearly $30 billion in lost wages by families that do not have access to paid leave and affordable childcare. The cost of childcare breakdowns is also significant to businesses—costing employers more than $4 billion annually in absenteeism.

4. Community resources and support are harder to access in suburban communities.

Lastly, when lower-income families move away from a city’s urban core to find affordable housing, they often find themselves farther from the community resources they need to be self-sufficient. Additionally, suburban areas tend to have fewer options to choose from when it comes to healthcare providers, and workers find themselves taking time off work to travel to routine medical appointments. Those who don’t have paid time off are more likely to delay these appointments or avoid medical care altogether. When workers can’t access the resources and care they need, their work and home life stability is put at risk.

Opportunities for supporting your workforce

While the direct and indirect costs of living farther from work can create challenges for both your employees and your business, there are ways you can help. WorkLife Employer Members who have hardship grants or loan programs have the opportunity to help their employees offset transportation costs when something unexpected happens—like a car accident or a major repair is needed. Additionally, our Employer Members have started to explore ride-sharing opportunities to help their employees save on transportation costs and provide an alternative should a breakdown occur.

WorkLife can support workers getting to and from work by helping them afford bus passes and gasoline, as well as minor car repairs. WorkLife can also support workers by helping them navigate community resources where they live to ensure they’re getting the support they need to be stable both at home and at work.

If you’d like to learn more about how WorkLife can support you in helping your employees overcome the challenges associated with transportation, don’t hesitate to contact us.

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