Prosperity Disparity is a three-part series by the Summit Daily News highlighting the struggles of service industry workers in Summit County, including earning low wages, working multiple jobs, vying for housing and struggling to find community in a transient mountain town.
Making ends meet
How Summit County’s hourly wage workers patch together a tight budget
It’s no secret that Summit County, where the cost of living soars well beyond the national average, can be a difficult place to make ends meet.
Affordable housing, child care, health care, mental health and minimum wage are common topics of discussion in local government. Those in the seasonal and service industry workforce fill low-wage jobs and spend well beyond the recommended 30% of their income on housing, leaving little left for basic needs.
The financial pressures on the hourly wage workforce, further exacerbated by the pandemic, are starkly contrasted by the steady stream of wealthy visitors to a world-class ski resort vacation destination.
Summit County’s workforce is increasingly being pushed out by second-home owners
The struggle to pay rent is a collective anxiety among Summit County’s hourly wage workers, who often live in overcrowded spaces, commute from outside the county or hand over half their monthly paycheck to landlords, leaving little money for other necessities.
Some join long waiting lists for workforce housing developments, but availability is never guaranteed. Some live in unpermitted units or in their cars.
With the cost of housing and construction increasing each year, the problem is a top priority for local governments.
How high turnover affects the workplace and the mental health of hourly wage workers
Plenty of Summit County’s seasonal workers come to the mountains to live the ski bum lifestyle for a winter or two before going on their way. But not everyone who ends up leaving necessarily wants to, and the transient nature of the county’s workforce takes a toll on the mental health of those working to set down roots in the community.
The pandemic hasn’t helped. The total workforce has decreased by about 23% from June to October, according to an economic impact survey conducted by the Summit Chamber of Commerce and the Summit Prosperity Initiative. Corry Mihm, project manager for the Prosperity Initiative, wrote in an email that much of the loss could be among seasonal workers.
In the ski industry, some people make a career out of their once-seasonal jobs by climbing the corporate ladder. But by design, a segment of the seasonal workforce leaves after a one or two years.