It may not feel like it, but the average paycheck still stretches further in metro Denver than it does in the majority of Western cities, according to a new study from moving and storage firm Trove.
But Colorado remains hard-pressed to match Texas when it comes to giving workers the biggest bang for the buck.
“What we really wanted to ask was, after critical expenses, how much does the average wage earner take home,” said Michael Pao, CEO of Trove, which is based in San Francisco.
Trove looked at the average wage across various metro areas and deducted taxes and basic living costs such as housing, transportation, groceries and health care to determine the amount of discretionary income left.
Metro Denver ranked in the 41st percentile among the 100 large metro areas studied for discretionary income, or just under the middle of the pack. But among larger Western metros, it ranked fifth-best for discretionary income after Las Vegas, Seattle, Cheyenne and Boise City, Idaho.
Sky-high living costs in pretty much every part of California helped Colorado metros look relatively affordable. In San Francisco, which ranked last, the average paycheck, despite being above other metros, came up $3,903 a year short of meeting taxes and basic expenses.
Housing costs were among the trickiest expenses to calculate. Trove took the rent for a two-bedroom apartment and assumed two people were splitting it in each market. For Denver, housing costs came out to an average of $10,769 a year, which worked out to about a third of all living expenses.
Although metro Denver did better than most other Western cities, it scored below the Greeley, Pueblo, Boulder, Fort Collins and Grand Junction metro areas on how much workers had left at the end of the month.
The study also looked at wages paid in various occupations and how well they covered living costs. For computer workers in metro Denver, the average wage was $99,520, compared with $52,180 for all occupations. Computer workers had $35,646 in discretionary income, ranking metro Denver in the top 5 percent nationally.
Among the job categories in which metro Denver workers were the most likely to receive a higher wage than people doing the same job in the other cities were mining and geological engineers, credit counselors, RV service technicians, athletes and software system developers.
At the other extreme, crane operators and podiatrists, along with psychology, cultural studies and anthropology teachers, were the most “underpaid” in Denver versus those in other cities, the study found.
Cities in Texas and Michigan offered some of the lowest living costs versus wages in the country. Austin, Texas, a rival to metro Denver, offered larger discretionary income of $9,693 than Denver despite having a smaller average wage of $48,468.