At Home in Nature

  (Agate, Colorado)
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The missing poor

In 2009, 4% of Elbert County residents had income below the poverty level, compared to a State-wide average of 9.3%.  This is not due to the ease at which the poor achieve a higher income in Elbert County, but because they have been marginalized by their neighbors through unjust land use regulation.

The poor are important to the economy and this reflects a potential 50% loss of low-income workers needed to supply labor deficits of agriculture, industry and commerce: Elbert County may have a deficit of more than 1,250 workers and their families, resulting in billions of dollars of lost productivity.

There are not currently this many jobs available in Elbert County.  Because there is no room for the poor, employers have adapted their businesses to make do.  For example, in the agricultural industries, which find a high return to labor, employers shifted to low-labor crop and animal production.

Yet even if the poor could afford the rent, they would have a hard time finding a place to rent Approximately 9.38% of housing is rentable in Elbert County, as opposed to the national average of 29.73%, reflecting a shortage of rental housing (Sperlings’s Best Places).  What alternatives do the poor who cannot rent have?  RV’s (including vans and boats) and mobile homes cost more than three times what they do across the State, more than some homes in Denver, reflecting the high cost of building in Elbert County.

AVERAGES:                         ELBERT COUNTY             STATE                   Higher?

HOME                                   $509,120                              $322,490                Yes, by 58%

RENTAL                               $805                                       $753                        Yes, by 7%

MOBILE HOME                  $175,877                              $53,488        Yes, by more than 3x!

RV, VAN, BOAT                   $199,786                              $69,208          Yes, by about 3x!

What we observe is a feedback cycle that results in less and less labor needed, less and less labor required, and fewer and fewer jobs every year.  Unless the poor can afford to drive into Elbert County, which because of the high costs of fuel, is becoming impossible.  The high costs of fuel impact the potential employers as well, who, being unable to earn more from their land due to labor shortages, must find outside employment for themselves, decreasing the total number of jobs.

As a result, the unemployment rate is climbing and the number of jobs in the County is recently declining, though never very vigorous.  If all the jobs in the County were held by County residents, only 12% of County residents could be employed.  The increased regulation under the Director of Community and Development Services Richard Miller, beginning in January 2007, is marked by increasing unemployment and decreased employment opportunities due to regulations approved and directed by the People he serves.

The simple way out of the feedback cycle is to increase the number of jobs in the County by allowing employers begin to hire agricultural, industrial and commercial workers.  This means reducing the costs of transportation for those workers, housing them near to where they must work, improving employer infrastructure and reducing the costs of living.

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