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    Biden’s Climate Law Is Reshaping Private Investment in the United States

    Lucrative tax incentives have fueled a surge in solar panels but failed to boost wind power, data from a new project show.Private investment in clean energy projects like solar panels, hydrogen power and electric vehicles surged after President Biden signed an expansive climate bill into law last year, a development that shows how tax incentives and federal subsidies have helped reshape some consumer and corporate spending in the United States.New data being released on Wednesday suggest the climate law and other parts of Mr. Biden’s economic agenda have helped speed the development of automotive supply chains in the American Southwest, buttressing traditional auto manufacturing centers in the industrial Midwest and the Southeast. The 2022 law, which passed with only Democratic support, aided factory investment in conservative bastions like Tennessee and the swing states of Michigan and Nevada. The law also helped underwrite a spending spree on electric cars and home solar panels in California, Arizona and Florida.The data show that in the year since the climate law passed, spending on clean-energy technologies accounted for 4 percent of the nation’s total investment in structures, equipment and durable consumer goods — more than double the share from four years ago.The law so far has failed to supercharge a key industry in the transition from fossil fuels that Mr. Biden is trying to accelerate: wind power. Domestic investment in wind production declined over the past year, despite the climate law’s hefty incentives for producers. And so far the law has not changed the trajectory of consumer spending on some energy-saving technologies like highly efficient heat pumps.But the report, which drills down to the state level, provides the first detailed look at how Mr. Biden’s industrial policies are affecting clean energy investment decisions in the private sector.The data come from the Clean Investment Monitor, a new initiative from the Rhodium Group, a consulting firm; and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research. Its findings go beyond simpler estimates, from the White House and elsewhere, providing the most comprehensive look yet at the effects of Mr. Biden’s economic agenda on America’s emerging clean-energy economy.The researchers spearheading the first cut of the data include Trevor Houser, a former Obama administration official, who is a partner at Rhodium; and Brian Deese, a former director of Mr. Biden’s National Economic Council, who is an innovation fellow at M.I.T.The climate bill President Biden signed into law last year includes a wide range of lucrative incentives to encourage domestic manufacturing and speed the nation’s transition away from fossil fuels. Doug Mills/The New York TimesThe Inflation Reduction Act, which Mr. Biden signed into law in August 2022, includes a wide range of lucrative incentives to encourage domestic manufacturing and speed the nation’s transition away from fossil fuels. That includes expanded tax breaks for advanced battery production, solar-panel installation, electric vehicle purchases and other initiatives. Many of those tax breaks are effectively unlimited, meaning they could eventually cost taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars — or even top $1 trillion — if they succeed at driving enough new investment.Biden administration officials have tried to quantify the effects of that law, along with bipartisan legislation on infrastructure and semiconductors signed by the president earlier in his term, by tallying up corporate announcements of new spending linked to the legislation. A White House website estimates that companies have so far announced $511 billion in commitments for new spending linked to those laws, including $240 billion for electric vehicles and clean energy technology.The Rhodium and M.I.T. analysis draws on data from federal agencies, trade groups, corporate announcements and securities filings, news reports and other sources to try to construct a real-time estimate of how much investment has already been made in the emissions-reducing technologies targeted by Mr. Biden’s agenda. For comparison purposes, its data stretch back to 2018, under President Donald J. Trump.The numbers show that actual — not announced — business and consumer investment in clean-energy technologies hit $213 billion in the second half of 2022 and first half of 2023, after Mr. Biden signed the climate law. That was up from $155 billion the previous year and $81 billion in the first year of the data, under Mr. Trump.Trends in the data suggest that the impact of Mr. Biden’s agenda on clean-energy investment has varied depending on the existing economics of each targeted technology.Mr. Biden’s biggest successes have come in spurring increased investment in American manufacturing, and in catalyzing investment in technologies that remain relatively new in the marketplace.Fueled partly by foreign investment, like in battery plants in Georgia, actual investment in clean-energy manufacturing more than doubled over the last year from the previous year, the data show, totaling $39 billion. Such investment was almost nonexistent in 2018.The bulk of that spending was focused on the electric-vehicle supply chain, including in the new Southwest cluster of activity across California, Nevada and Arizona. The Inflation Reduction Act includes multiple tax breaks for such investment, with domestic-content requirements meant to encourage production of critical minerals, batteries and automotive assembly in the United States.The big winners in manufacturing investment, though, as a share of states’ economies, remain traditional auto states: Tennessee, Kentucky, Michigan and South Carolina.Mr. Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure law targets the clean-energy economy, including spending to build out more charging stations for electric vehicles.Gabby Jones for The New York TimesThe climate law also appears to have supercharged investment in so-called green hydrogen, which splits water atoms to create an industrial fuel. The same is true of carbon management — which seeks to capture and store greenhouse gas emissions from existing energy plants or pull carbon out of the atmosphere. All those technologies struggled to gain traction in the United States before the law showered them with tax breaks.Hydrogen and much of the carbon-capture investment is concentrated along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, a region filled with incumbent fossil fuel companies that have begun to branch into those technologies. Another cluster of carbon-capture investment is concentrated in Midwestern states like Illinois and Iowa, where companies that produce corn ethanol and other biofuels are beginning to spend on efforts to sequester their emissions.The incentives for those technologies in the Inflation Reduction Act, along with other support in the bipartisan infrastructure law, “fundamentally change the economics of those two technologies, making them broadly cost-competitive for the first time,” Mr. Houser said in an interview.Other incentives have not yet budged the economics of critical technologies, most notably wind power, which boomed in recent years but is now facing global setbacks as projects become increasingly expensive to finance.Wind investment was lower in the first half of this year than at any point since the database was started.In the United States, wind projects are struggling to navigate government processes for permitting, transmission and locating projects, including opposition from some state and local lawmakers. Solar projects and related investment in storage for solar power, Mr. Houser noted, can be built closer to power consumers and have fewer hurdles to clear, and investment in them grew by 50 percent in the second quarter of 2023 from a year earlier.Some consumer markets have yet to be swayed by the promise of tax breaks for new energy technologies. Americans have not increased their spending on heat pumps, even though the law covers up to $2,000 toward the purchase of a new one. And over the last year, the states with the highest spending as a share of their economy on heat pumps are all concentrated in the Southeast — where, Mr. Houser said, consumers are more likely to already own such pumps, and to be in need of a new one. More

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    Restaurants Agree to Raise Pay to $20 an Hour in California

    The deal will avoid a ballot fight over a law passed last year that could have resulted in higher pay and other changes opposed by restaurant companies and franchisees.Labor groups and fast-food companies in California have reached an agreement that will pave the way for workers in the industry to receive a minimum wage of $20 per hour.The deal, which will result in changes to Assembly Bill 1228, was announced by the Service Employees International Union on Monday, and will mean an increase to the minimum wage for California fast-food workers by April. In exchange, labor groups and their allies in the Legislature will agree to the fast-food industry’s demands to remove a provision from the bill that could have made restaurant companies liable for workplace violations committed by their franchisees.The agreement is contingent on the withdrawal of a referendum proposal by restaurant companies in California that would have challenged the proposed legislation in the 2024 ballot. Businesses, labor groups and others have often used ballot measures in California to block legislation or advance their causes. The proposed legislation would also create a council for overseeing future increases to the minimum wage and enact workplace regulations.Mary Kay Henry, the president of the S.E.I.U., said the measure in California would be a model for other states. “California fast-food workers’ fight for a seat at the table has reshaped what working people believe is possible when they join together,” she said.Sean Kennedy, the executive vice president of public affairs at the National Restaurant Association, said the deal also benefited restaurants. “This agreement protects local restaurant owners from significant threats that would have made it difficult to continue to operate in California,” he said. “It provides a more predictable and stable future for restaurants, workers and consumers.”Even so, some franchisees said they did not support the deal.“The real issue is who is this impacting the most? It’s the franchisees,” said Keith Miller, a Subway franchisee in Northern California who has become an advocate for the interests of others like him. “There was a lot of back-room dealing that made this happen and no time for anyone to really voice opposition.”Willie Armstrong, the chief of staff for Assemblyman Chris Holden, a Democrat, who is the sponsor of A.B. 1228, said the lawmaker expected the measure to be approved by the Legislature before its session ended on Thursday.Last year, the Legislature passed Assembly Bill 257, a measure Mr. Holden also sponsored, which would have created a council with the authority to raise the minimum wage to $22 per hour for restaurant workers. Gov. Gavin Newsom signed it on Labor Day last year.But the bill met fierce opposition from business interests and restaurant companies, and a petition received enough signatures to put a measure on the November 2024 ballot to stop the law from going into effect.Other business groups in California have successfully used that tactic to change or reverse legislation they opposed.In 2020, ride-sharing and delivery companies like Uber and Instacart campaigned for and received an exemption from a key provision of Assembly Bill 5, which was signed by Mr. Newsom and would have made it much harder for the companies to classify drivers as independent contractors rather than employees.Those companies collected enough signatures to get the issue on the ballot as Proposition 22, which passed in November 2020. More than $200 million was spent on that measure, making it the costliest ballot initiative in the state at the time.And in February, oil companies received enough signatures for a measure that aims to block legislation banning new drilling projects near homes and schools. That initiative will be on the 2024 ballot.In response to calls from advocacy groups who have said the referendum process unfairly benefits wealthy special-interest groups, and in an effort to demystify a system that many Californians say is confusing, Mr. Newsom signed legislation on Sept. 8 that aims to simplify the referendum process.Kurtis Lee More

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    Pork Industry Grapples With Whiplash of Shifting Regulations

    Retailers in California, and pig farmers and processors thousands of miles away, are bracing for the impact of a state ban on some sources of the meat.These were supposed to be boom times for Pederson’s Natural Farms.In the days this spring after the Supreme Court upheld a California law banning the sale of certain pork products made from pigs raised in small gestation pens, the phones were ringing off the hook at Pederson’s headquarters in Hamilton, Texas.California grocery stores and restaurants were desperate to line up supplies of bacon and pork chops that met the new state standards by a July 1 deadline. Pederson’s products filled the bill, and the company was happy to help send them to California, which consumes about 15 percent of the nation’s pork.“We were going to have a good year,” said Neil Dudley, the vice president at Pederson’s. “We were putting it in the budget. We were going to put pressure on us to grow, but the extra income would help fund that growth.”But a couple of weeks later, some of those new orders were canceled as California regulators pushed back the full force of the law, known as Proposition 12, to early next year, allowing grocery stores and restaurants to use up pork they had already boughtBrined pork bellies ready for removal from a vacuum tumbler and then hanging in a smoker at Pederson’s.Tamir Kalifa for The New York Times“We were going to have a good year,” said Neil Dudley, a Pederson’s executive. Then California pushed back its timeline, and some orders were canceled.Tamir Kalifa for The New York TimesThe normally orderly pork industry has been thrown into upheaval as pig farmers in the Midwest, major pork processors and California businesses have reacted to the changing legal and regulatory landscape in recent months. Further confusion could come if Congress passes pending legislation that would effectively nullify the California act.“There is so much murky water here,” said Todd Davis, the meat and seafood coordinator for Oliver’s Markets, which operates four grocery stores in Sonoma County, Calif., and has lined up pork products that meet the new state requirements.“You are supposed to be compliant as of July 1, but I don’t think the state has any teeth on the enforcement side of things,” Mr. Davis continued. “Companies aren’t taking it as seriously as they should, and at some point the state will make an example out of one of them,” which he said could include costly fines.Already, farmers are facing hog prices that have been depressed since fall while feed costs have remained high, leading to average losses of $30 to $50 a hog for much of this year in Iowa, according to estimated livestock returns from Iowa State University. A pound of bacon costs an average of $6.20 at grocery stores across the country, down from $7.60 last fall, according to data from the Federal Reserve Bank at St. Louis.Nationally, pork prices are influenced by everything from feed cost to demand from China to the shifting mood in commodities markets, but some retailers are already raising prices in California, to pass on the higher cost to hog farmers of meeting the state’s more stringent standards. With other farmers opting not sell in the state, short supply could also push the prices of bacon and pork chops higher.Piglets are kept with their sows at A-Frame Acres in Elliott, Iowa, which is part of the Niman Ranch network.Rachel Mummey for The New York TimesFeeding time at A-Frame Acres, which is run by Ron Mardesen, above.Rachel Mummey for The New York TimesPig farmers say making changes for California is costly. Along with his partners, Dwight Mogler, a fourth-generation farmer in Iowa who sells about 200,000 hogs each year, spent $8.7 million in 2022 building a new facility and modifying an existing one to meet the new standards. A packing company pays him a small premium over market price for his pigs — he declined to provide details of the deal — but Mr. Mogler estimates that it will take 10 years to recoup his outlay.Other farmers say they’re simply not going to modify how they raise pigs.“We’re losing money in the pig industry,” said Trish Cook, the president of the Iowa Pork Producers Association, who, along with her family, raises pigs near Winthrop in eastern Iowa. “The idea of having a large capital expenditure with no clear payback on it doesn’t make business sense to us. We don’t know what sort of premium those pigs will get.”For California, questions about whether consumers will have enough bacon and pork chops and how much they will cost also remain unclear.Ronald Fong, the chief executive of the California Grocers Association, which pushed for an extension of the deadline, said stores were able to make it through Labor Day with the product that they had already bought. However, Mr. Fong said that soon “we’ll be faced with some shortages and price hikes.”Mr. Davis of Oliver’s Markets said he already bought pork from Niman Ranch, a producer that exceeds the California criteria, but had also always offered customers less-expensive pork options. Now, the cheaper pork that meets the new state criteria, from Open Prairie Natural Meats, a brand owned by Tyson, costs Oliver’s $1 to $1.50 a pound more, which Mr. Davis is passing along to customers, he said.“Chicken and pork are still very affordable options, especially when compared to beef prices,” Mr. Davis said. “So we’ve seen very little pushback from consumers.”Loading brined pork bellies into the smokehouse at Pederson’s.Tamir Kalifa for The New York TimesWhen voters passed Proposition 12 five years ago, it was a blow to the industrial meat producers, requiring that any veal calves, breeding pigs and egg-laying hens sold in California be housed in systems that allow freedom of movement. Under the rule, pigs must be born to sows housed in spaces that provide at least 24 square feet per sow. California produces very few of its own pigs, but the new rule also applies to pigs raised in other states.The law was supposed to go into effect in 2022, but the new pork standards were put on pause after the National Pork Producers Council and American Farm Bureau Federation filed a lawsuit challenging California’s ability to dictate pig operations in other states. They argued that if other states adopted different restrictions, the result would be a patchwork of rules and regulations. Massachusetts, for instance, passed its own gestation pen rule, called Question 3, in 2016, but it has been on hold, awaiting various court proceedings.In May, the Supreme Court ruled 5 to 4 that Proposition 12 was legal. It said the pork industry had not proved that the law imposed a substantial burden on interstate commerce. California officials began working through how to regulate and enforce the rule, but a state court delayed enforcement until the end of the year.And the pork industry isn’t done fighting. In June, senators from largely agricultural Midwestern states introduced the Ending Agricultural Trade Suppression Act, which would limit the ability of states to regulate agriculture in other states.In early August, attorneys general from several states, including Texas, New Hampshire and Utah, signed a letter urging Congress to pass the EATS Act.“The industry lost in the court of public opinion in terms of California voters adopting this law, they lost in the courts, and now they’re trying to get something through with this legislative act,” said Chris Oliviero, the general manager of Niman Ranch, which pays its network of 600 farmers in 20 states premium prices to raise the beef, pork and lamb used in its products in conditions that exceed the California standards.“The ultimate goal is to prevent Prop. 12 from going into effect,” Mr. Oliviero added.Bacon slabs cooling after being smoked at Pederson’s.Tamir Kalifa for The New York TimesAs for Pederson’s, much of the pork it produces is already committed to a handful of longtime customers, including Whole Foods. The company did, however, have excess bacon that met the new standards.That is, until one of the farmers who supplied half of the pigs used by Pederson’s received a better offer from a larger company. Suddenly, Pederson’s pig supply was at risk.“Farmers, who are struggling to make money, are getting calls from the big guys, saying they want to contract with them,” Mr. Dudley said. “The big players can’t lose market share, not in a market as big as California. Instead of a boom year, we’re now looking at diminishing sales.” More

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    Labor Dept. Proposes Vast Expansion of Overtime Eligibility

    The Biden administration seeks a threshold of about $55,000 in annual pay under which salaried workers must receive overtime, up from $35,500.In a move that could affect millions of workers, the Biden administration announced Wednesday that it was proposing to substantially increase the cutoff below which most salaried workers automatically receive time-and-a-half overtime pay.Under the proposed rule, issued by the Labor Department, the cutoff for receiving overtime pay after 40 hours a week would rise to about $55,000 a year from about $35,500, a level that was set during the Trump administration.About 3.6 million salaried workers, most of whom fall between the current cutoff and the new one, would effectively gain overtime pay eligibility under the proposed rule, the department said.Julie Su, the department’s acting secretary, said in a statement that the rule “would help restore workers’ economic security by giving millions more salaried workers the right to overtime protections.”The department estimated that the rule would result in a transfer of $1.2 billion from employers to employees in its first year.Some industry groups, particularly in retail, dining and hospitality businesses, have argued that expanded overtime eligibility could lead many employers to convert some salaried workers to hourly workers and set their base wage so that their overall pay, with the usual overtime hours, would be unchanged.These groups argue that vastly expanding overtime eligibility could also discourage employers from promoting workers to junior management positions that provide a path to well-paying careers, because more employers would be compelled to pay junior managers overtime when they worked long hours.“To prevent these employees from triggering new overtime costs, many small businesses will be forced to demote them back to hourly wage earners, reversing their hard-earned career progression,” Alfredo Ortiz, the president and chief executive of Job Creators Network, a group that promotes the interests of small businesses, said in a statement.The proposal follows a similarly ambitious move by the Obama administration in 2016, which sought to raise the overtime cutoff for most salaried employees to about $47,500 from about $23,500. But just before Donald J. Trump took office as president, a federal judge in Texas suspended the Obama rule, concluding that the Labor Department lacked the legal authority to raise the overtime cutoff so substantially.The Trump administration later installed the $35,500 limit.Under the Biden administration’s proposal, the overtime limit would automatically adjust every three years to keep pace with rising earnings. The Labor Department will accept public comments for 60 days before issuing a final version of the rule.Advocates of a higher cutoff argue that one key benefit would be to prevent employers from misclassifying workers as managers to avoid paying them overtime.Under the law, employers do not need to pay overtime to workers who make above the salary cutoff if they are bona fide executives or managers, meaning that their primary job is management and that they have real authority.But research has shown that many companies illegally deny workers overtime by raising their salaries just above the overtime cutoff and simply labeling them managers, even if they do little managerial work.Because the legal definition of an overtime-exempt manager can be somewhat subjective, and because many salaried workers aren’t aware that they are eligible for overtime pay if they make more than the cutoff, they typically do not challenge employers who game the system in this way. The result is that many assistant managers at fast food restaurants or retail outlets have been denied overtime pay even though the law typically required that they receive it.Raising the salary threshold would make this practice less common by eliminating the subjectivity in determining which workers should receive overtime pay. Instead, many workers — like assistant managers in restaurants — would become eligible for overtime automatically, no matter their job responsibilities.The proposal is the latest effort by the Biden administration to increase pay and protections for workers. President Biden has been outspoken in his support of labor unions, and issued an executive order requiring contractors on federal construction projects worth more than $35 million to reach agreements with unions that determine wages and work rules.The major climate bill that Mr. Biden signed last year included incentives for clean energy projects to pay wages that are similar to union scale.But the proposed overtime rule could face legal challenges like the ones that derailed the Obama-era rule, suggesting that the president’s rationale for the proposal may be as much about communicating his support for workers during the 2024 presidential campaign as it is about significantly expanding eligibility for overtime.In an interview this year, Seth Harris, a former deputy labor secretary who recently served as a senior labor adviser to Mr. Biden, said some administration officials worried that a judge would set aside the rule, but added, “There are others whose offices are physically closer to the president who say, ‘No, no, no, this District Court judge doesn’t tell us how we do our business.’” More

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    Biden Incentives for Foreign Investment Are Benefiting Factories

    Early data suggest laws to increase semiconductor production and renewable energy technology have shifted the makeup of foreign direct investment — but not increased it.Lucrative new tax breaks and other incentives for advanced manufacturing that President Biden signed into law appear to be reshaping direct foreign investment in the American economy, according to a White House analysis, with a much greater share of spending on new and expanded businesses shifting toward the factory sector.Data that include the first months after the enactment of two pieces of that agenda show that a key measure of foreign investment fell slightly from 2021 to 2022, adjusted for inflation.The numbers suggest that, in the early months after the bills were signed, the hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars that Mr. Biden is directing toward manufacturing have not increased the overall amount of foreign direct investment in the economy. Instead, the laws appear to have shifted where foreign investment is being directed.A new analysis by the White House Council of Economic Advisers shows the composition of what’s known as capacity-enhancing spending on new structures or expansions of existing ones shifted rapidly toward factories, in line with one of Mr. Biden’s top economic goals.The analysis shows that two-thirds of foreign direct investment, excluding corporate acquisitions, was in manufacturing in 2022. That was more than double the average share from 2014 to 2021.The surge is small in the context of the overall economy. But administration officials call it an encouraging sign that multinational companies are being enticed to America by Mr. Biden’s industrial policy agenda. In the last year, the analysis notes, construction spending on new manufacturing facilities in the United States has increased significantly faster than in England, continental Europe or other wealthy Group of 7 nations.Administration officials say a Commerce Department survey of new foreign investment suggests investors pouring money into America’s factories are largely concentrated in Britain and continental Europe, along with Canada, Japan and South Korea. Half of 1 percent of the investment appears to be associated with China.That foreign investment is flowing largely to computer and electronics manufacturing, particularly of semiconductors, which were the centerpiece of a bipartisan industrial policy bill that Mr. Biden signed into law last summer. He also signed a climate, health and tax bill later that summer that included large new subsidies for renewable energy technology manufacturing.Since those laws were signed, companies have announced a flurry of planned investments in the United States. The administration tallies them at more than $500 billion. They include semiconductor plants in Arizona, advanced battery facilities in Georgia and much more. Many of the announced projects are from foreign companies, like Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company.Administration officials say shifting investment toward factories — even if the overall level of investment does not change — can produce positive spillovers for the economy. The White House analysis cites higher wages in manufacturing jobs and potential increases to productivity from foreign firms sharing knowledge with existing domestic manufacturers.“Foreign direct investment in manufacturing doesn’t just help us build up this critical sector in key focal areas of Bidenomics, such as semiconductors and clean energy,” said Jared Bernstein, the chair of the Council of Economic Advisers. “It also allows us to learn valuable production lessons from international companies in these and other areas.” More

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    In a Hot Job Market, the Minimum Wage Becomes an Afterthought

    The federal wage floor of $7.25 is increasingly irrelevant when even most teenagers are earning twice that. But what happens when the economy cools?Under New Hampshire law, Janette Desmond can pay the employees who scoop ice cream and cut fudge at her Portsmouth sweet shop as little as $7.25 an hour.But with the state unemployment rate under 2 percent, the dynamics of supply and demand trump the minimum wage: At Ms. Desmond’s store, teenagers working their first summer jobs earn at least $14 an hour.“I could take a billboard out on I-95 saying we’re hiring, $7.25 an hour,” Ms. Desmond said. “You know who would apply? Nobody. You couldn’t hire anybody at $7.25 an hour.”The red-hot labor market of the past two years has led to rapid pay increases, particularly in retail, hospitality and other low-wage industries. It has also rendered the minimum wage increasingly meaningless.Nationally, only about 68,000 people on average earned the federal minimum wage in the first seven months of 2023, according to a New York Times analysis of government data. That is less than one of every 1,000 hourly workers. Walmart, once noted for its rock-bottom wages, pays workers at least $14 an hour, even where it can legally pay roughly half that.Hardly anyone makes $7.25 anymoreAverage number of workers earning federal minimum wage

    Note: 2023 data is through July.Source: Current Population Survey, via IPUMSBy The New York TimesThere are still places where the minimum wage has teeth. Thirty states, along with dozens of cities and other local jurisdictions, have set minimums above the federal mark, in some cases linking them to inflation to help ensure that pay keeps up with the cost of living.But even there, most workers earn more than the legal minimum.“The minimum wage is almost irrelevant,” said Robert Branca, who owns nearly three dozen Dunkin’ Donuts stores in Massachusetts, where the minimum is $15. “I have to pay what I have to pay.”As a result, the minimum wage has faded from the economic policy debate. President Biden, who tried and failed to pass a $15 minimum wage during his first year in office, now rarely mentions it, although he has made the economy the centerpiece of his re-election effort. The Service Employees International Union, which helped found the Fight for $15 movement more than a decade ago, has shifted its focus to other policy levers, though it continues to support higher minimum wages.Opponents, too, seem to have moved on: When Pennsylvania’s House of Representatives voted this year to raise the state’s $7.25 minimum wage to $15 by 2026, businesses, at least aside from seasonal industries in rural areas, shrugged. (The measure has stalled in the state’s Republican-controlled Senate.)“Our members are not concerned,” said Ben Fileccia, a senior vice president at the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association. “I have not heard about anybody being paid minimum wage in a very long time.”The question is what will happen when the labor market cools. In inflation-adjusted terms, the federal minimum is worth less than at any time since 1949. That means that workers in states like Pennsylvania and New Hampshire could struggle to hold on to their recent gains if employers regain leverage.Congress hasn’t voted to raise the minimum wage since George W. Bush was president — in 2007, he signed a law to bring the floor to $7.25 by 2009. It remains there 14 years later, the longest period without an increase since the nationwide minimum was established in 1938.As the federal minimum flatlined, however, the Fight for $15 campaign was succeeding at the state and local levels. Cities like Seattle and San Francisco adopted a $15 minimum wage, followed by states like New York and Massachusetts. And while Republican legislatures opposed raising minimums, voters often overruled them: Missouri, Florida, Arkansas and other Republican-dominated states have passed increases through ballot measures in the past decade.Nationwide, the number of people earning the minimum wage fell steadily, from nearly two million when the $7.25 floor took effect to about 400,000 in 2019. (Those figures omit people earning less than the minimum wage, which can in some cases include teenagers, people with certain disabilities or tipped workers.)Then Covid-19 upended the low-wage labor market. Millions of cooks, waiters, hotel housekeepers and retail workers lost their jobs; those who stayed on as “essential workers” often received hazard pay or bonuses. As businesses began to reopen in 2020 and 2021, demand for goods and services rebounded much faster than the supply of workers to deliver them. That left companies scrambling for employees — and gave workers rare leverage.The result was a labor market increasingly untethered to the official minimum wage. In New Hampshire, the 10th percentile wage — the level at which 90 percent of workers earn more — was just above $10 in May 2019. By May 2022, that figure had jumped to $13.64, and local business owners say it has continued to rise.Making more than the minimumLow-wage workers are making more than their state’s minimum wage nearly everywhere, but especially in states that haven’t raised their wage floors above the federal level of $7.25 an hour. (The 10th percentile wage is the pay rate at which 90 percent of workers in a state earn more.)

    Notes: Minimum wages are as of January 2022. Pay data is as of May 2022. Minimum wages in some cities and localities may be higher than the state minimum.Source: Labor DepartmentBy The New York Times“Today you’re looking at $15 an hour and saying I wish that’s all we had to pay,” said David Bellman, who owns a jewelry store in Manchester, N.H.The unemployment rate in New Hampshire was low before the pandemic; at 1.7 percent in July, it is now among the lowest rates ever recorded anywhere in the country. Competition for workers is fierce: The Wendy’s on Mr. Bellman’s drive home from work advertises wages of $18 an hour. At his own store, he is paying $17 to $20 an hour and recently hired someone away from the local bagel shop — his son had noticed that she seemed like a hard worker.“Basically the only way to hire anybody is to take them away from somebody else,” Mr. Bellman said.New Hampshire is surrounded by states where the minimum wage is above $13, so if Granite State employers tried to offer substantially less, many workers could cross the border for a bigger paycheck. But even in states like Alabama and Mississippi, where the cost of living is lower and where few neighboring states have minimum wages above the federal standard, most employers are finding they have to pay well above $7.25.Paige Roberts, president and chief executive of the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce in Mississippi, said she was “nearly laughed out of a job” when she started asking members about paying the minimum wage. Entry-level jobs there pay about $12 an hour, according to the local unemployment office.In states with higher minimums, the picture is more nuanced. Faster hikes in the wage floor in the late 2010s forced up long-stagnant wages in fields like restaurants and retail. And some businesses, such as summer camps, say they are still paying the minimum wage for entry-level workers or those in training. But for the most part, the minimums no longer exert the strong upward pressure on pay that they did when they were adopted.When New Jersey passed a minimum-wage law in 2019, many businesses complained that the increases were too aggressive: The floor would rise by at least a dollar an hour every year until it hit $15 in 2024. But recently, the hot job market has levitated the wage scale even more.Jeanne Cretella starts workers in her New Jersey restaurants and event venues at $15 an hour, though the state’s minimum won’t reach that figure until next year.Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times“Covid kind of shifted things around a bit, as did inflation,” said Jeanne Cretella, whose business, Landmark Hospitality, operates 14 venues in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.Before the pandemic, dishwashers and other entry-level employees at Landmark typically made the minimum wage. These days, Ms. Cretella starts workers in New Jersey at $15 an hour, though the state’s minimum won’t hit that mark until next year.When the Fight for $15 movement began, many economists warned that raising the minimum wage too high or too quickly could lead to job losses. Some studies did find modest negative effects on employment, particularly for teenagers and others on the margins of the labor market. But for the most part, researchers found that pay went up without widespread layoffs or business failures.Some economists still wondered what would happen as $15 minimum wages spread beyond high-cost coastal cities. But that was before the pandemic reshaped the low-wage labor market.“We’re kind of in different territory now,” said Jacob Vigdor, an economist at the University of Washington who has studied the issue.Washington has the highest statewide minimum wage, at $15.74. Yet when Mr. Vigdor recently visited Aberdeen, a small town near the Pacific coast, all business owners wanted to talk about was how to retain workers.“I did not really hear a lot of concern about those minimum wages,” he said. “There the concern is that they’re losing people.”Still, economists say the minimum wage could become relevant again when the labor market eventually cools and workers lose bargaining power.David Neumark, a professor at the University of California, Irvine, said states with high minimum wages could be at a disadvantage in a recession, because employers would have to keep pay high as demand softened, potentially leading to layoffs.Other economists have the opposite concern: that workers in states where the minimum wage remains $7.25 could see their recent gains evaporate when they no longer have the leverage to demand more.“It’s as tenuous as it gets,” said Kathryn Anne Edwards, a labor economist and policy consultant. “The labor market has gained ground, but policy has not cemented that territory.”Despite the strong labor market, many workers say they barely get by.KaSondra Wood has spent much of her adult life working for the minimum wage, from the army depot where she held her first job, earning $5.15 an hour, to the Little Caesars where she made $7.25 as recently as last year.But not anymore: This summer, she started a job cleaning rooms at a local hotel, earning $12 an hour. Even in Oneonta, Ala., a rural area with few job opportunities, employers know better than to try hiring at the minimum wage.“They wouldn’t advertise for it, knowing they wouldn’t get anyone in there,” she said.But Ms. Wood, 38, hardly feels that she is getting ahead. The hotel is a 45-minute drive from her home, so gas eats up much of her paycheck, even though she car-pools with her mother. Groceries keep getting more expensive.“A couple years ago, $12 an hour would’ve been killer money,” she said. But now, it isn’t enough to pay her bills.“I don’t ever get caught up,” she said. “I’m broke by the time I get paid.” More

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    Could U.S. Toughness on Chinese Business Have Unintended Consequences?

    Businesses fear that efforts to look tough on Beijing, which have the potential to be more expansive than moves by the federal government, could have unintended consequences.At a moment when Washington is trying to reset its tense relationship with China, states across the country are leaning into anti-Chinese sentiment and crafting or enacting sweeping rules aimed at severing economic ties with Beijing.The measures, in places like Florida, Utah and South Carolina, are part of a growing political push to make the United States less economically dependent on China and to limit Chinese investment over concerns that it poses a national security risk. Those concerns are shared by the Biden administration, which has been trying to reduce America’s reliance on China by increasing domestic manufacturing and strengthening trade ties with allies.But the state efforts have the potential to be far more expansive than what the administration is orchestrating. They have drawn backlash from business groups over concerns that state governments are veering toward protectionism and retreating from a longstanding tradition of welcoming foreign investment into the United States.Nearly two dozen mostly right-leaning states — including Florida, Texas, Utah and South Dakota — have proposed or enacted legislation that would restrict Chinese purchases of land, buildings and houses. Some of the laws could potentially be more onerous than what occurs at the federal level, where a committee led by the Treasury secretary is authorized to review and block transactions if foreigners could gain control of American businesses or real estate near military installations.The laws being proposed or enacted by states would go far beyond that, preventing China — and in some cases other “countries of concern” — from buying farmland or property near what is broadly defined as “critical infrastructure.”The restrictions coincide with a resurgence of anti-China sentiment, inflamed in part by a Chinese spy balloon that traveled across the United States this year and by heated political rhetoric ahead of the 2024 election. They are likely to pose another challenge for the administration, which has dispatched several top officials to China in recent weeks to try to stabilize economic ties. But while Washington may see a relationship with China as a necessary evil, officials at the state and local levels appear determined to try to sever their economic relationship with America’s third-largest trading partner.“The federal government in the United States, across branches with strong bipartisan support, has been quite forceful in sharpening its China strategy, and regulating investments is only one piece,” said Mario Mancuso, a lawyer at Kirkland & Ellis focusing on international trade and national security issues. “The shift that we have seen to the states is relatively recent, but it’s gaining strength.”One of the biggest targets has been Chinese landownership, despite the fact that China owns less than 400,000 acres in the United States, according to the Agriculture Department. That is less than 1 percent of all foreign-owned land.Such restrictions have been gathering momentum since 2021 after Fufeng USA, the American subsidiary of a Chinese company that makes components for animal feed, faced backlash over plans to build a corn mill in Grand Forks, N.D. The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, a powerful interagency group known as CFIUS that can halt international business transactions, reviewed the proposal but ultimately decided that it did not have the jurisdiction to block the plan. However, the Air Force, citing the mill’s proximity to a U.S. military base, said this year that China’s involvement was a national security risk, and local officials scuttled the project.Since then, states have been developing or trying to bolster their restrictions on foreign investment, in some cases blocking land acquisitions from a broad set of countries, including Iran and North Korea. In other instances, they have targeted China specifically.The state moves, some of which also include investments coming from Russia, Iran and North Korea, have raised the ire of business groups that fear the rules will be too onerous or opponents who view them as discriminatory. Some of the proposals wound up being watered down amid the backlash.This year, Texas lawmakers proposed expanding a ban that was enacted in 2021 on the development of infrastructure projects funded by investors with direct ties to China and blocking Chinese citizens and companies from buying land, homes or any other real estate. Despite the support of Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas, a Republican, the proposal was scaled back to prohibit purchases of just agricultural land, quarries and mines by individuals or companies with ties to China, Iran, North Korea and Russia. The bill ultimately expired in the Texas Legislature in May.In South Dakota, Gov. Kristi Noem, a Republican, has been pushing for legislation that would create a state version of CFIUS to review and investigate agricultural land purchases, leases and land transfers by foreign investors. Ms. Noem has argued that the federal government does not have sufficient reach to keep South Dakota safe from bad actors at the state level.The legislation failed amid pushback from farming groups that were concerned about restrictions on who could buy or rent their land, along with lawmakers who said it would hand too much power to the governor.One of the most provocative restrictions has been championed by Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, a Republican who is running for president. In May, Mr. DeSantis signed a law prohibiting Chinese companies or citizens from purchasing or investing in properties that are within 10 miles of military bases and critical infrastructure such as refineries, liquid natural gas terminals and electrical power plants.“Florida is taking action to stand against the United States’ greatest geopolitical threat — the Chinese Communist Party,” Mr. DeSantis said when he signed the law, adding, “We are following through on our commitment to crack down on Communist China.”Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, a Republican presidential candidate, signed into law one of the most provocative restrictions against Chinese investments.David Degner for The New York TimesBut the legislation is written so broadly that an investment fund or a company that has even a small ownership stake from a Chinese company or a Chinese investor and buys a property would be violating the law. Business groups and the Biden administration have criticized the law as overreach, while Republican attorneys general around the country have sided with Mr. DeSantis.The Florida legislation, which targets “countries of concern” and imposes special restrictions on China, is being challenged in federal court. A group of Chinese citizens and a real estate brokerage firm in Florida that are represented by the American Civil Liberties Union sued the state in May, arguing that the law codifies and expands housing discrimination. The Justice Department filed a “statement of interest” arguing that Florida’s landownership policy is unlawful.A U.S. district judge, who heard arguments about the case in July, said last week that the law could continue to be enforced while it was being challenged in court.The restrictions are creating uncertainty for investors and fund managers that want to invest in Florida and now must decide whether to back away from those plans or cut out their Chinese investors.“It creates a lot of thorny issues not just for the foreign investors but for the funds as well, because some of these laws try to make them choose between keeping investors and being able to invest in those states,” said J. Philip Ludvigson, a partner at King & Spalding. “It’s really a gamble for the states that are passing some of these very broad laws.”Mr. Ludvigson, a former Treasury official who helped lead the office that chairs CFIUS, added: “You might want to get tough on China, but if you don’t really think through what the second- and third-order effects might be, you could just end up hurting your state revenues and your property market while also failing to solve an actual national security problem.”The state investment restrictions also coincide with efforts in Congress to block businesses based in China from purchasing farmland in the United States and place new mandates on Americans investing in the country’s national security industries. The Senate voted overwhelmingly in favor of the measures in July, which still need to clear the House to become law.The combination of measures is likely to complicate diplomacy with China and could draw retaliation.“Officials in Beijing are quite concerned about the hostility to Chinese investments at both the national and state levels in the U.S., viewing these as another sign of rising antipathy toward China,” said Eswar Prasad, a former head of the International Monetary Fund’s China division. “The Chinese government is especially concerned about a proliferation of state-level restrictions on top of federal limitations on investments from China.”He added, “Their fear is that such actions would not just deprive Chinese investors of good investment opportunities in the U.S., including in real estate, but could eventually limit Chinese companies’ direct access to American markets and inhibit technology transfers.” More

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    Can Affluence and Affordable Housing Coexist in Colorado’s Rockies?

    In the recreation-fueled, amenity-rich economy of Colorado’s Rocky Mountain region, there are two peak seasons: summer, with its rafting, hiking, fishing and biking, and the cold months filled with skiing and other winter activities.And then there is “mud season” — a liminal moment in spring when the alpine environment, slowly then suddenly, begins to thaw and only a trickle of tourists linger.It’s a period that workers in other places might bemoan. But for much of the financially stretched work force serving the assemblage of idyllic mountain towns across the state, a brief drop-off in business this spring was a respite.During a slow shift on a 51-degree day at the Blue Stag Saloon — a nook on Main Street in the vacation hub of Breckenridge — Michelle Badger, a veteran server, half-joked with her co-workers that “this winter was hell.”Crowds were larger than ever. And workers in the old Gold Rush town still enjoy the highs of the easy camaraderie and solid tips that come with service jobs in the area. But it was all sobered by the related headaches of soaring rents and acute understaffing, which left employees, managers and demanding customers feeling strained.Working in mountain towns like Breckenridge and others in Summit County — including Silverthorne, Dillon and Frisco — would feel like a fairer bargain, Ms. Badger and her colleagues said, if they could better afford living close by. Long commutes are common throughout America. But rental prices in hamlets among the wilderness on the outskirts of town are becoming burdensome too.Job growth has severely outpaced the stock of shelter throughout Colorado. Median rent in Frisco — which a decade ago was considered a modest “bedroom community” for commuting employees — is about $4,000 a month, according to Zillow, and 90 percent above the national median. Residential property prices in Summit County are up 63 percent in just the past year, even amid higher interest rates. Cash buyers buttressed by family money abound.The wage floor for most jobs in and around the county — from line cook to ski lift operator — is at least $18 an hour, or roughly $37,000 a year. Yet for those not lucky enough to land a rare slot in subsidized local employee housing, it’s not uncommon to live an hour or more away to attain a livable budget.As that happens, the contingent displaced by the rich ripples outward down rural highway corridors and, in turn, displaces the farther-flung working poor.Inequality has always been rampant within the orbit of popular destinations. But the financial knock-on effects of those ritzy spheres have expanded as the pandemic-induced surge in remote work has supercharged divides.Wanderlust-filled white-collar workers abruptly discovered that multiweek visits or even permanent relocations were possible for them and their families. Those seeking investment properties saw the opportunities of this hybrid-driven land rush as well, and pounced.Longtime residents have had a front-row seat.Matt Scheer — a 48-year-old musician who grew up on a ranch eastward in El Paso County, where “as soon as we could carry the milk bucket we were milking the cow” — is the sort of extroverted jack-of-all-trades who typifies the spirit (and the wistful brand) of Summit County.Matt Scheer feels lucky to have bought a house 11 years ago when homes were more affordable and mortgage rates lower. But he feels unable to move.Having moved near Breckenridge in the early 2000s to ski, hike, fly fish and work around town, he’s relieved that he managed to pick up his place in 2012 for $240,000 with a fixed-rate mortgage. Prices in his tucked-away French Creek neighborhood — a hilly, unincorporated patch with modest double-wide manufactured homes — have more than tripled.Though he’s a loyal resident with little interest in ever moving, Mr. Scheer said he “can’t really leave.”For a payout of tens of thousands of dollars from the local government, he recently signed onto a hefty “deed restriction” for his property, banning its use for Airbnb stays, limiting any potential renter or buyer to the work force of Summit, and limiting any potential resale price. And he did it with pride.It’s part of a growing program led by Breckenridge and other local governments to limit gentrification without licensing a large buildup of new developments. (Deed restrictions in destination areas got off to a quieter start in the 2010s but have ticked up.)Incumbent property owners willing to sacrifice lucrative short-term vacation rental income see it as a fair trade-off, key to keeping long-term residents and the dashing contours of their towns’ terrain. Policy critics, and frustrated local renters fighting over limited spots, say it is an inadequate tool for the scale and source of the problem: a lack of units.Those critics include the governor of Colorado, Jared Polis, who is skeptical that lump-sum payments to owners in exchange for deed restrictions will be a sufficient incentive to broadly move the needle on affordability.“There is no silver bullet,” he said in an interview. “But one of the areas that we have focused on is removing the barriers to additional home construction.” He added that “housing is not a problem that you can solve by throwing more money at the existing housing stock.”His sweeping legislation to ensure “a home for every Colorado budget” by pre-empting local land-use laws and directly loosening zoning rules statewide died in the State Senate in May, after some initial momentum. All but one of the mayors in the state’s Metro Mayors Caucus issued a letter opposing the plan.‘It’s Either Five Mil or Five Jobs’As politicians jockey, many resourceful Coloradans find ways to make do.Mr. Scheer, for instance, has picked up over 30 music gigs through the end of summer, paying about $100 an hour — though he acknowledges it’s his locked-in, lower housing costs that make his lifestyle workable.During a practice jam session and impromptu afternoon party of 20- to 40-somethings at Mr. Scheer’s place in the spring, his pal and fellow guitarist, Bud Hallock (the other half of their occasional duo band, Know Good People), explained the grind people face by echoing the playfully hard-nosed aphorism uttered around town: “It’s either five mil or five jobs.”“If you’re willing to put in the work, you’ll be able to,” argues Mr. Hallock, who moved out West shortly after graduating from St. Lawrence University in 2015. Mr. Hallock has three jobs, he said, adding, “I don’t think it’s the God-given right of anyone to come to a ski town and have it easy.”For many longtime residents and transplants alike, it has become harder to finesse: Even as Summit County adds waves of remote workers, it has experienced net negative migration since 2020. It’s a trend mirrored in the larger urban areas of Denver and Boulder, where the share of people working remotely is among the highest in the country, as homelessness rises.Breckenridge and other local governments are offering payments to some homeowners who agree to restrictions on how their property can be used and sold.Summit County is a draw for residents that enjoy outdoor activities like hiking, skiing and water sports.Seventy percent of residences in the county are second homes that sit vacant most of the year or serve as short-term rentals.Tamara Pogue, a member of Summit County’s governing board, said the mountain towns and valley cities of the Front Range near Fort Collins and Colorado Springs as well as those out by the Western Slope struggled with an “affordability issue” similar to the nation’s big cities for the same reason: “We’re supply-constrained.”“The problem is the average cost of a single-family home in Summit County so far this year is $2.14 million,” Ms. Pogue said. “Not one job makes that affordable.”The stock available is limited: 70 percent of homes in the county are second homes that sit vacant most of the year or serve as short-term rentals, she said, typically Airbnbs.As a single mother of three, Ms. Pogue bought a 1,400-square-foot duplex for $525,000 in 2018 — a rarity, if not an impossibility, now. She said a determination to prevent “mountain communities” from becoming “towns without townspeople” had driven her to become a staunch YIMBY, or a “yes in my backyard” supporter of home-building efforts, against the wishes of perceived NIMBYs, or the “not in my backyard” voices.Ms. Pogue and her allies argue that the relatively slow pace of building in the Rockies, despite the area’s popularity and rising prices, is a subtle form of denial.“Everyone wants to be here, whether they work here or not,” she added, “and so we have this spiral.”If, When, Where and How to Build MoreA few affordable-housing projects visibly chug along in Summit near the airport service road, not far from Kingdom Park Court, one of a handful of mobile home parks in the county with pricey lot rents. But getting middle-income developments greenlit can be a slog. Many proponents of limiting development note that about 80 percent of the county is restricted federal public land, putting a ceiling on what can be done. (There’s a nascent pilot program with the U.S. Forest Service to approve some apartments on leased land.) In the meantime, the well-off are gobbling up much of what’s left.Just north of downtown Silverthorne sits Summit Sky Ranch — a sprawling development with homes starting around $1 million, with a pledge of “bringing modern mountain living to over 400 acres of pristine natural beauty” in the valley. It quickly sold out and many have moved in, lured by a private observatory and private access to a river bend.Laurie Best, the longtime planning manager for housing in the community development department for the Town of Breckenridge, said she had emphasized deed-restriction policies and more generally trying to preserve existing units to reduce the need for new ones.Ms. Best and her backers have acceded to some construction at a slow and steady pace, but they staunchly oppose taller, dense multifamily buildings, which are not, as she put it, “consistent with the character of the town.”In several counties, there has been a swell in “conservation easements” — legal agreements between private landowners and local governments to guard wildlife and scenic open space by permanently banning development. The trend led the state to create a Division of Conservation in 2018 with an oversight commission to authenticate the contracts.A construction site in Silverthorne, Colo. Some officials and residents in the area have acceded to limited construction but are wary of adding taller, dense multifamily buildings.Eric Budd, a leader of a movement in Colorado called Bedrooms Are for People — which favors expanding land use and more widely permitting apartments, duplexes and triplexes — scoffs at the uptick in easements. He contends that what he tartly calls a “xenophobic attitude of ‘there’s only so much to go around’” is self-defeating.Trying to restrict access to a hot commodity — in this case, half of a state — won’t end well for anyone, he said, and a California-level, cost-of-living crisis is only five or 10 years away.Down in the foothills of the Rockies in Boulder, where Mr. Budd lives, school enrollment and the overall population have declined along with affordability, as remote-worker migration has picked up.In some sense, the arguments against restrictionism amount to a water-balloon analogy: squeezing leads to odd bulges in random places.Before the pandemic, Leadville, an old mining town 15 minutes from the trailhead of the highest peak in the Rockies, was an affordable harbor for working-class Hispanic employees of the nearby vacation economies: just out of reach of the affluence around Aspen to the west and resorts near Vail to the north.Since 2020, though, Leadville has become engulfed as those realms of wealth expand and overlap, causing rents and home prices to spike beyond what many can feasibly afford over time, with few other places to go.Second-home owners constituted half of all home sales in 2020 and 2021.The Downside of Good IntentionsKimberly Kreissig, a real estate agent, at a home she was selling in Steamboat Springs. She says an effort to build affordable homes yielded house flippers.Half of Colorado renters are officially defined as cost-burdened — spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing costs. And local economists suggest that the rate has ticked even higher in mountain locales.For Kimberly Kreissig, a real estate agent in Steamboat Springs, a year-round recreation hub with natural hot springs near Wyoming, the affordability crisis in “the high country” has no simple villain. For years, her practice in Steamboat — where the average home price is above $1 million, compared with $580,000 in early 2019 — included both upper-middle-class, first-time home buyers and luxury-market sellers.In 2018, she and her husband, a developer, broke ground on a dense, 50-unit multifamily project in Steamboat designed for people “in that $75,000 range,” she said — “for instance, my office manager here.”“We had grandiose plans that we were going to be able to sell these things for $300,000,” Ms. Kreissig said, but they were foiled by several factors.Even before Covid-19 struck, “the demand was just so through the roof that people were offering us more than list price right out of the chutes,” she said, with precontract bids coming in “twice as high as we anticipated.”Then, once lockdowns in early 2020 ended, the remote-working cohort swooped in — just as labor and material costs shot up for the contractors still finishing some units. Before long, many families she sold units to in 2019 for around $400,000 realized that because of the housing boom they had “over $300,000 in equity” in their homes — and with interest rates so low, they could parlay a different (or additional) purchase. Many apartment owners began independently flipping their units to investors and buyers of second homes who were willing to pay well above the list prices.The Yampa River flows through Steamboat Springs. With the pandemic’s onset, the area became a magnet for remote workers.Diners at a restaurant in Steamboat Springs, a year-round recreation hub with natural hot springs.“For the people that are already ‘in,’ there’s a fair share of folks that are saying, you know, ‘I’m in, we don’t we don’t need any more growth,’” Ms. Kreissig said. “But you can’t stop growth.”“One flip near the end for one of the units was for $800,000,” Ms. Kreissig said. “We tried to be the good guys.”One way to respond to house flippers is through greater deed restriction, which Steamboat has enforced in a few neighborhoods, along with some short-term rental restrictions, not unlike other hot spots. The area has also benefited from the state’s Middle Income Housing Authority pilot program, which has put up a few buildings in town. But Steamboat still has a shortage of 1,400 units, according to a report from local authorities.A big break came when an anonymous donor recently purchased a 534-acre farm property, Brown Ranch, and turned it over to the Yampa Valley Housing Authority, with instructions that it be used for long-term affordable housing for local workers.It came as welcome news to the area’s middle class. And yet the sheer surprise, and luck, of the donation is indicative of broader, underlying tensions that typically drive community-level and state debates: Is more supply a threat to both cultural vibes and property price appreciation, or a win-win opportunity to flourish?Ms. Kreissig thinks it all comes back to “the kind of ‘not in my backyard’ mentality” that a silent majority holds.“For the people that are already ‘in,’ there’s a fair share of folks that are saying, ‘You know, ‘I’m in, we don’t we don’t need any more growth,’” she said. “But you can’t stop growth.”Adrift Between Uphill and DownNancy Leatham and her husband got back on their feet after lean times early in the pandemic. But when looking for a new house, she found that the booming housing market had far outpaced the good labor market. In March 2020, Nancy Leatham, 34, was making just above the minimum wage, living with her husband and their baby daughter in Idaho Springs — a little city above 7,000 feet wedged between a steep crag and an I-70 exit, far downhill from chic resort land.They struggled to get by “right during the height of the pandemic, when everything was shut down,” wiping out their income, she said. It felt like a repeat of her teenage years during the mortgage-induced financial crisis when her family’s business as excavation contractors — preparing sites for home construction — went belly-up, and their house was foreclosed upon.In spring 2020, “I had to start going to food banks and stuff to get food,” she said. “And we had to sell a car, and just stuff like that to, like, to make ends meet.”By 2021, her husband, Austin, had found a job at Walmart making $19 an hour, while she was promoted at Starbucks, becoming a manager at $18 an hour, plus bonus — and “we had our child tax credit,” she added.“I started looking for a house because we had really great income,” roughly $80,000 before taxes, she said. “I grew up in poverty, since 2008 especially, and we’d been living with food insecurity and stuff, so I was like ‘Look at us, we made it!’”But almost as soon as she started house hunting, she realized that, within months, the booming housing market had far outpaced the good labor market. They had been priced out of their sleepy, snowy town, after merely a few bidding wars. The average home price — $340,000 at the start of 2019 — is up 66 percent. Higher mortgage rates hurt, too.The Gold Mountain Village Apartments, where Ms. Leatham and her husband live, about 10 miles outside Idaho Springs, Colo.The Historic Argo Mill and Tunnel, a former gold mining and milling property, in Idaho Springs.Lower-income workers are being priced out of the area and face the prospect of “having to move downhill.”The average home price in Idaho Springs is up 66 percent since the start of 2019.Many of the Starbucks employees Ms. Leatham managed owned their homes rather than rented, she said, and “half left because they were able to sell their house off for considerably more than they were when they bought.”Hoping to buy or rent something bigger than what she called a “closet” apartment, Ms. Leatham, who now has a second child, is preparing for the cold reality of “having to move downhill” — though where exactly is unclear: 15 miles down the corridor, renters and buyers run into coveted areas near Golden and Denver.Recently, a woman visited the Starbucks Ms. Leatham works at, she said, and was dressed very much like an out-of-towner. They chit-chatted at the register, and the woman mentioned she was in town to check on a recent property purchase.Getting her hopes up for a nicer place, Ms. Leatham pried a bit:“I was like, ‘Oh, nice, what are you going to do with it?’ And she’s like, ‘Oh, it’s for rental.’”“And I’m like, ‘Oh, cool.’ And then she goes, ‘Short-term rental.’”“And then, I went ‘Dang it!’ But really loud, and I made her feel awful — I didn’t mean to make her feel that way.”Irresistible Allure, Harsh RealityBack up the I-70 corridor in Frisco, a sprawling Walmart parking lot often occupied by unhoused people living out of their cars and campers is tucked in front of a commercial complex with a high-end furniture store, a Whole Foods and a craft microbrewery.It’s one of the few places for the growing homeless population to go, since overnight parking is widely banned in Summit County, even in sparse hamlets like Blue River, perched just beyond Breckenridge above 10,000 feet.The effects of the global and national wealth parked in the Rockies often cascade downstream like the snow melt that carves the rivers. But it’s a force that can be identified in any direction.For many, if not most, homeowners in high-country counties like Summit, the hard truth is that only so much can be done if the very idea of mountain living — experiencing nature, removed from the bustling downhill hassles of the outside world — is to be maintained.“It’s funny, on our little block, there’s probably, you know, 10 homes — and on a beautiful day, which we have a lot of, you’ll see all of us standing out in our driveway, taking pictures,” said Ms. Best of Breckenridge’s community development department. “I must have the same picture 100 times because it’s so stunning when you go out there, and you’re still in awe of where we live. So I totally get the folks that want to be here.” More