Colorado’s childhood poverty rate climbing

Increase is highest of all but two states

DENVER – More Colorado children are living in poverty today than during the worst years of the Great Recession.

That’s the finding of the annual Kids Count report, which revealed Monday that 224,000 Colorado kids live in poverty.

The state’s childhood poverty rate has grown faster than all but two other states since 2000.

Chris Watney, president of the Colorado Children’s Campaign, which published the report, said she was surprised by the finding.

“When one in six Colorado kids still lives in poverty, we know our children are far from seeing the benefits of recovery and should be a priority for investment as state revenues rebound,” Watney said.

Gov. John Hickenlooper routinely touts Colorado as one of the best-performing state economies in the wake of the Great Recession. But he said no one has found out how to replace middle class jobs that disappeared during the recession, citing bank tellers and airline ticket agents as two examples.

“I think a lot of the childhood poverty is in populations that have not really been engaged in the recovery,” said Hickenlooper, who attended the unveiling of the report at the Capitol on Monday.

The Kids Count report measures statistics by county on a range of numbers tied to health, education and family well-being.

Watney cited some successes. The high school graduation rate climbed five percentage points since 2010 to 77 percent. And the rate of uninsured children dropped dramatically in the last decade, with 63,000 more children getting health insurance.

For La Plata and Montezuma counties, the report shows two communities moving in opposite directions.

The trends since 2012 are slow yet steady. In a ranking of the composite scores of the 25 largest counties, La Plata ranked ninth. In 2012, its rank was 11.

Montezuma ranked 24th this year, just ahead of Denver in the state’s 25 largest counties. It was 21st in 2012.

More than four in 10 babies in Montezuma County are born to single women, and nearly 22 percent of the county’s mothers have less than a high school education. Both those measures rose in the last two years.

La Plata, by contrast, scored well below the state average in births to teen mothers and mothers who have not finished high school.

School leaders have made a push for full-day kindergarten in recent years, and it shows in La Plata County, where just about every kindergartner – 99.8 percent of them – attends a full-day program, according to Kids Count. In Montezuma, though, where the school districts have struggled with funding, just 37.1 percent of kindergartners are in a full-day class. That’s about half the state average.

Many of the statistics are closely tied to family income. Rich counties tend to have healthier, better-educated children. However, La Plata ranked high even though its median household income was about $1,000 less than the state average of $56,880.

The story is the same across the state, with some families doing better and others sliding farther behind.

Hickenlooper said Colorado has a lot of work to do.

“As we see the economic recovery grow in force, we want to make sure every family participates in that recovery, and that we don’t have pockets of poverty all across our state,” Hickenlooper said.

Watney thinks the Kids Count report, which has been published for more than 20 years, can point the way for officials.

“We believe what gets measured get changed,” Watney said.