Routinely ranking at the top of national lists for desirability and quality of life, a new survey shows Colorado Springs no longer can use a low cost of living as an additional drawing card.
The city’s cost of living climbed in the second quarter above the national average for the first time in more than 19 years, according to a quarterly survey by the Council for Community and Economic Research. The group’s cost of living for the Springs in the April-to-June quarter was 100.9% of the national average, the highest local costs have been when compared with the national average since the first quarter of 2000.
“The rising cost of living we’ve experienced reflects the increased popularity of living in Colorado Springs,” said Dirk Draper, CEO of the Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC. “Following national attention as a great place to live, more people want to live here, and prices have increased. We continue to be competitive in the quality of our workforce, quality of our education system and quality of life.”
The local cost of living has risen steadily since the beginning of 2016, when costs in the Springs were 92.6% of the national average.
While all six major categories in the cost of living index have risen since then, the biggest increases were in utilities, health care and miscellaneous goods and services — and health care and miscellaneous costs were above the national average.
Even as costs have gone up, wages haven’t kept pace. The average weekly wage for El Paso County remains 13.2% below the national average — just a slight improvement from 15.9% below the national average at the beginning of 2016 — despite local wages growing 17.2% to $1,028 during the same period, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“The unfortunate part of this is that wages are so far below the national average, and there is still a perception that Colorado Springs is a less expensive place to live,” said Tatiana Bailey, director of the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs Economic Forum.
“It was just a matter of time that our costs would catch up and pass the national average because we are in a state with so much growth.”
The local cost of living remained above the national average throughout most of the late 1990s, peaking at 104% in the second quarter of 1997. Two major recessions pulled the cost of living to as low as 91.8% of the national average in the second quarter of 2011, but costs began to escalate as the local economy rebounded.
“It doesn’t surprise me that our cost of living is increasing at a faster rate than the rest of the nation, given the robust growth in the Colorado Springs economy,” said Tom Binnings, senior partner in Summit Economics, a local research and consulting firm.
“It makes perfect sense that the last time this happened was in 2000, at the end of the 1990s growth cycle.”
The biggest cost drivers in the past year were utility costs, which rose from 90.5% of the national average to 97.1%; health care costs, which jumped from 103.4% to 110.6%; and miscellaneous goods and services, which increased from 98.3% to 104%. Grocery, housing and transportation costs fell when compared with the national average and remained slightly below average.
The cost of living in the Springs still remains below Denver, where costs are 110.8% of the national average, though costs there edged lower during the past year when compared with the nation. Costs in Pueblo rose to 94.5% of the national average from 92.2%. The state’s other metropolitan areas — Boulder, Fort Collins, Grand Junction and Greeley — were not included in the survey.
The council’s index doesn’t measure inflation. Instead, it compares prices for 57 goods and services used or purchased by households where middle managers live in 255 metro areas. It’s designed to help managers compare living costs when moving to another city. Harlingen, Texas, had the nation’s lowest cost of living at 73.8% of the national average, while New York had the highest at 242.5% of the average.