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Quality of life report: Economy, health are struggles in Pikes Peak Region

Economy, health a struggle for Pikes Peak region

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - The 2013 Quality of Life Indicators (QLI) report was formally released at a press conference Thursday morning.

In its 6th year, the QLI is used to objectively assess the performance of El Paso and Teller counties in 11 key sectors: arts, built environment, community engagement, economy, education, health, natural environment, recreation, social well-being, safety and transportation.

There are five top trends for 2013: economy, community engagement, fire and flood, health and hospital systems, and an aging population.

According to the Milken Institute, Colorado Springs jumped from 99 to 57 out of 200 best performing large cities in 2012 for job creation, economic performance and the high-tech sector.  Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach said that curbing unemployment is the city's number one priority.

Local unemployment is higher than the state and national averages.  In the last decade, the number of jobs and income levels in the Pikes Peak Region has stagnated.

The most notable success in the QLI is the region's ability to band together as a community.  The Waldo Canyon Fire, Black Forest Fire and devastating floods caused an outpouring of community support and generosity.

The Waldo Canyon Fire affected 52,000 people and more than 26,000 buildings, the report found.  Fighting the fire cost the city of Colorado Springs about $4 million.  The region now faces a 350% increase in debris flow off the burn scar and a decade of heightened flood risk.  Ongoing flood mitigation cost $17 million from city reserves and other sources.

Data is not yet available for the Black Forest Fire.

Perhaps the biggest shock in the report was the decline of health in the Pikes Peak region.

"We are getting heavier and less fit faster than the rest of the country," said Dave Munger of the QLI Executive Committee.  

More than one in four children and more than half of adults is overweight or obese in El Paso County.  Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach praised the city's hospitals, but said more healthcare is needed.  In particular, the region lacks primary care physicians, psychiatrists and psychologists.  The number of primary care providers in El Paso County is 25% below the state average.  Colorado Springs has 37% fewer psychiatrists than the national average.

"We are doing health clinics," Mayor Bach said.  "We're going to ratchet that up all around the city."

Suicide rates are also alarmingly high.  Rates among adults and adolescents are higher than the state and national averages and are a leading cause of death.

Bach urged elected officials to appoint committees to find out why suicide is such a problem.  He said that improving the economy might help.

"When people are out of work I think that stress has to have a real impact on their health," he said.

Another key finding is an aging population.  In 2012, 16% of El Paso County residents were aged 60 or older.  That number is projected to increase 179% in the next three decades. It's expected to increase around the country, but the problem, according to Munger, is having enough services to support senior citizens.

"We do not have the transit system in place that will help aging folks move around as they need to when they cannot drive their cars," Munger said.  

The region also needs more affordable housing, medical and assisted-living facilities, volunteerism and second careers, the report found.

Meanwhile, the region's young worker population (25-44 years old) continues to decline.  That category is comprised of 27% of the population, which falls below the critical 30% threshold used by many business site-selection consultants.

Some positive indicators include a high voter turnout: 91% in 2012 versus 78% for the 2008 presidential election.

The veteran homeless population dropped dramatically in 2013 over 2012.  This is attributed to additional federal programs such as the Veteran Affairs Supportive Housing program, and Supportive Services for Veteran Families.

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