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Cost of living, housing affordability top concerns of Coloradans in fourth Annual Colorado Health Foundation Pulse Poll

The latest statewide poll reveals challenges creating a ripple effect across people’s lives with immediate and long-term consequences. The cost of living and worries about housing affordability dominate the list of concerns for most Coloradans in 2023, according to findings from the Forth Annual Pulse Poll commissioned by The Colorado Health Foundation (CHF).

A bipartisan team of researchers collected responses from 2,639 Coloradans all across the state between April 8 – May 3, 2023, showing that persistently high living costs and housing affordability are presenting a ripple effect across multiple aspects of daily life and fueling worries for the state’s future generations.

“Taking the annual pulse of what Coloradans are thinking, feeling, and experiencing when it comes to health and well-being is imperative to being community-informed,” said President and CEO of The Colorado Health Foundation Karen McNeill-Miller. “This year’s data paints a worrying picture with far too many Coloradans trying to meet the rising costs of living by making daily sacrifices that compromise opportunities to be healthy and economically stable.”

“These tradeoffs are even more common among people of color and those living on low income,” she added. “We want local and state officials to understand the stories behind these data, as they highlight policy opportunities that are essential for improving opportunities for everyone in our state.”

CHF is releasing an analysis of Coloradans’ top concerns (housing affordability and cost of living) this month. This focused release will be followed in August with a deep-dive analysis of other key findings and in September with a deep-dive on the perspectives of Hispanic and Latino respondents.

Coloradan’s Top Concerns 2023

  • The good news; COVID-19 concerns have been nearly erased.

Coloradans’ concerns over Coronavirus/COVID-19 and the health pandemic, which took center stage in the early years of the Pulse Poll (2020 and 2021), have been erased. In 2023, less than one percent of respondents cited the pandemic as a concern, and instead Coloradans’ top concerns are now laser-focused on two key factors that dominate the worries and daily choices of the state’s residents.

  • Increasing costs of living and housing are impacting every demographic in every corner of the state.

“COVID-19 was not the only contagion that swept through Colorado in the last several years,” said Lori Weigel, Republican pollster for Pulse and principal of New Bridge Strategy. “In a three-year span, housing costs have spread from the concern of local workers in mountain resort communities to a top-tier statewide issue. In every region of the state – from the Eastern Plains to the Front Range to the West Slope – and with virtually every single demographic group, the cost of living and cost of housing are the great uniters as the top-of-mind concerns.”

Asked to describe in an open-ended question and in their own words, the most important issue facing Colorado right now, respondents provided a Top 5 list that all reached double-digit response levels:

  1. Cost of Living/Inflation 16%
  2. Housing Affordability 15%
  3. Government/Politics 13%
  4. Homelessness  10%
  5. Public Safety/Crime 10%
  6. Rounding out the Top 10:
  7. Water 7%
  8. Overpopulations/Growth/ Development 6%
  9. Climate Change 5%
  10. Economy/Jobs 5%
  11. Guns/gun violence/gun control 5%

Reinforcing these concerns, when asked to rank a series of specific problems facing Colorado, all four of the top issues relate to increasing costs and housing. Respondents put “the rising cost of living” and “the cost of housing” top of the list with 85 percent and 82 percent, respectively, saying the problems are extremely serious or very serious.

Concerns about the cost of living are eight percent higher for renters, six percent higher for Latinos, and four percent higher for people living on low incomes.

Concerns about the cost of housing are 16 percent higher for Native Americans (98 percent total) and 11 percent higher for people living on low incomes and renters.

Since 2020, the cost of housing as an extreme or very serious problem has risen from 67 percent to 82 percent, with 51 percent of respondents citing it as an extremely serious problem in 2023 compared to just 37 percent noting it in 2020. Related, the rising cost of living was rated an extremely serious or very serious problem by 85 percent of those surveyed.

Despite the waning pandemic, concerns about the ability to afford living in Colorado have persisted and now, many Coloradans are doubting not only their ability to own homes but their children’s ability to afford to live in Colorado as well.

Results fall in line with recent polls and analyses, including the annual U.S. News & World Report released in May, that revealed Denver and select cities across Colorado – recently ranked among the Top 10 most desirable and livable cities in the country – are falling further down the rankings. In the end, the concerns and changes detailed in the 2023 Pulse Poll may provide some insight to the changing face of Colorado in the years ahead.

“Concerns about the cost of living are not only a source of anxiety for Coloradans today – they are also dimming their hopes for the future,” said Dave Metz, Democratic pollster for Pulse and president of FM3 Research. “Today, many Coloradans face real challenges – nearly two in five are ‘just getting by financially,’ and more than one-quarter are worried about losing their home because they can’t afford it.”

“But looking toward the future, the view is even darker,” he adds. “Most renters who want to own a home doubt they will ever be able to purchase one in Colorado, and more than four in five parents are worried about whether their children will be able to afford to stay here at all. Coloradans not only have low expectations for a rapid turnaround on the cost of living – they worry that the state’s housing challenges could become generational.”

As people increasingly worry about their ability to afford the cost of living, they are less concerned about the broader economic picture. Concerns about jobs and the economy –  63 percent considered an extremely serious or very serious problem in 2020, but this has fallen to 48 percent in 2023.

Home Isn’t Always Sweet

Housing concerns are impacting day-to-day decisions with negative impacts, particularly for those living on low incomes.

Significant portions of the population fear they could lose their home or are making tough decisions to be able to afford their housing.

  • Nearly three in 10 respondents (28 percent) said they are worried they could lose their home in the coming year because they can’t afford rent or mortgage. That number is up six percent from 2020. This worry jumps to 49 percent of Native Americans and renters, 47 percent of African American and Black respondents, and 36 percent of people living on low incomes.
  • About 15 percent of respondents have either moved because they couldn’t afford their housing or lived with a roommate, friends, or family when they’d rather not. These tough decisions are more than double for people living on low incomes.
  • For those in Generation Z (the oldest of which are pushing 26 years of age), almost one-third said they have to live with a roommate or a friend to afford rent or a mortgage.

“Looking into the future, 83 percent of respondents who are parents said they’re worried that their children won’t be able to afford to live in Colorado in the future,” added Weigel. “That’s something we used to see in terms of economic opportunity in small rural communities, but to see parents in every region of the state and at every income level concerned their kids may not have a future here is really stark.”

Far too many experiencing unfair treatment based on race or ethnicity.

While concerns about housing are widespread, Coloradans’ actual experiences with our state’s housing market suggest that some groups are navigating other challenges in addition to soaring costs when trying to find a place to live. About one in four Coloradans trying to rent or purchase a place to live have experienced unfair treatment, either personally or with someone they know, as a result of their race or ethnicity. This is true for six in 10 Native Americans, nearly half of African Americans, and nearly four in 10 Latinos.

The Ripple Effect

The high cost of living is touching all aspects of Coloradans’ lives.

  • About 40 percent of Coloradans say they are “just getting by financially,” including more than one in 10 describing themselves as “really struggling.” Those really struggling financially include 27 percent of Native Americans, 20 percent of renters, 19 percent of African Americans, as well as 18 percent of Latino respondents.
  • 40 percent of respondents say they are “worse off financially” than a year ago. This number is much higher, six out of 10 for multi-racial respondents. (18% jump 2021-2022 that’s staying high).
  • Of the 72 percent of respondents who said they planned to be employed over the next year, 21 percent were worried that they might not be employed over the next year. Overall, one out of five respondents were concerned they would not be employed within the next year, and one out of three Latinos reported the same concern (a nine percent jump from 2021-2022 that remains high, though it dropped four percent from 2022-2023).

About one in three respondents say they are worried they might not be able to afford enough food to feed themselves or their families. This worry is much higher for people living on low incomes (60 percent),

Coloradans are making hard choices between making ends meet and their health and well-being.

  • 14 percent said they have skipped meals because they couldn’t afford food vs. just nine percent in 2021. This increases significantly for people living on low incomes (34 percent have skipped meals) and those under 39 (19-23 percent).
  • 35 percent are worried they may not always be able to afford food for themselves and/or their family in the coming year, while 60 percent of people living on low incomes share this worry.
  • 37 percent of respondents are worried they or someone in their household will be without health insurance in the coming year.
  • Nearly four out of 10 respondents say they’ve postponed medical, dental or mental health care in the past year – primarily due to cost and/or ability to pay for the services – cited by 75 percent of respondents.

This research recap was provided by the Colorado Health Foundation.