Denverites are making more money, but they might not be feeling much richer

And despite being a growing city, the metro area’s poverty level is going down.

Denver's getting paid more. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Denver's getting paid more. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

staff photo

Denver’s getting paid more as it gets bigger, according to new data.

The U.S. Census Bureau just released income, poverty and other information from its 2017 American Community Survey, and it shows what you could’ve guessed — the city’s households are bringing home more money.

At $76,643, Denver had the seventh-highest median household income out of the 25 most populous metro areas, according to the 2017 data. That’s up from $73,107 in inflation-adjusted dollars in 2016. The 4.8 percent growth is second among major metros only to a 6.1 percentage change in the San Diego area over the same time period.

“That’s a lot,” said Jack Strauss, Miller Chair of Applied Economics for the Daniels College of Business at the University of Denver. Nationwide, the median increased by 2.6 percent.

“What was surprising is that it’s increasing substantially faster,” he said. “The second-fastest is impressive.”

With that growth, Denver is gaining ground on the Minneapolis, Baltimore and Seattle areas, where the median incomes are $76,856, $77,394 and $82,133.

“We’re not as surprised by the changes that we’re seeing in this data,” said Jeff Romine, Denver’s chief economist.

“The reality is we’ve been hearing this from our residents and our families as well as our businesses over the past year,” he said, adding that people say they are doing better and earning more, but that it may not be keeping pace with other changes in the city — like increasing housing costs.

“Unfortunately because we’re an incredibly successful city … our housing prices continue to rise,” Romine said. “Incomes aren’t rising quite as fast as housing prices still, but housing prices are starting to slow. We’re starting to see that across the board.”

As for the state, the median household income grew to $69,117 from $66,726 in 2017 inflation-adjusted dollars, an increase of 3.6 percent. That’s the second largest increase by percentage since before the Great Recession and is also faster than the nationwide average of 2.6 percent during that period.

The ACS numbers also show that the poverty level in the Denver metro area is down — slightly.

Poverty status is not a fixed value — it varies by family size, number of children and age. But about a quarter of a million Denverites reported living below the poverty line in 2017, a bit less than in 2016. It’s down 0.8 percent — the margin of error is 0.6 percent, for what it’s worth. But Strauss was impressed.

“That compares to nationwide, 12.3 percent,” he said. “In the U.S. it fell by 0.4 percent and in Denver it fell by twice that. And the amount of people in poverty in Denver is 8.6 percent.

“That’s impressive because we are a big city and big, growing cities often leave people behind and it doesn’t appear to be the case that that’s true in Denver. Of course, there are some people who are poor — 8.6 percent — but at the same time, it appears that the rising tide in Denver is lifting most of the boats.”

Denver had the third-lowest poverty rate among the 25 most populous metros in 2017, according to the ACS report. Despite the improvement there, Romine said the city’s focused on a different statistic.

“Poverty is a measure of income,” he said. “It’s not a measure of income against costs.”

He said that particularly with Mayor Michael Hancock’s focus on what they’re calling the “equity platform,” the city’s watching the 200-percent poverty level — people making twice the amount of the poverty line.

“That’s the people who are struggling a little bit,” he said. They’re also right on the cusp of two out of three segments Romine described in explaining the equity platform.

There’s the group struggling to meet basic needs — to pay rent this month, to feed their family this week. There’s the group that has a little more stability that Romine said the city wants to help be able to make choices: “They get to choose the neighborhood they want to live in, choose the house or the apartment they want to rent. Maybe choose the job.”

And the third group is people who “can start building up the resources … and overcome any short-term dilemmas,” he said.

What’s next?

Hancock will be addressing the equity platform in greater detail as he announces his 2019 budget proposal on Thursday morning. (Follow Esteban for coverage.) For now, mayoral spokeswoman Amber Miller pointed to programs like the local hiring initiative at the National Western Center and I-70 expansion construction and the Minority- and Women-Owned Business Enterprise program are examples of things the city has done to work with Denverites in some of the groups that Romine described.

She said that the mayor will talk on Thursday about “strategies to stabilize neighborhoods that are seeing significant private sector investment, public sector investment” — like deploying the Neighborhood Equity and Stabilization Team he announced in his 2018 State of the City speech.