Everyone feels effects of recession, but new figures show some areas and groups suffer the worst
The effects of the Great Recession in Colorado have fallen hardest on local areas such as Denver and Mesa County, and groups such as Latinos, African Americans and American Indians, an analysis of federal data released today shows.
All of Colorado has a long way to go to recover from the Great Recession, even though that economic downturn officially ended in 2009. In some local areas and among certain populations the challenges are much more severe. The new data, part of the U.S. Census Bureau's annual American Community Survey, are especially worrisome because they come just a few days after officials informed state lawmakers of an expected $500 million deficit to support public services for the next fiscal year. Colorado's elected representatives will again face tough choices when they convene in January, but continuing to slash the services that support struggling families will not solve the problem.
"Continuing to rely on spending cuts will not solve our problems; in fact, it will just make things worse for working families and harder for the poor to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table. We need to take a balanced approach that includes new revenues so we can invest in our state's economy and provide help for those who need it most," said Kathy White, deputy director of the Colorado Fiscal Policy Institute.
An analysis of the American Community Survey Data by the Colorado Fiscal Policy Institute identified some of the most important challenges lawmakers should confront. While the overall poverty rate for the state was 13.4 percent, the state's poverty rate for women was 14.1 percent last year, for example, compared to 12.7 percent for men. Women's earnings also continued to be significantly lower than those for men.
Large disparities in the poverty rate between racial and ethnic groups continue. While non-Hispanic whites have a poverty rate of 9.3 percent and Asians 10.6 percent, 25.7 percent of African Americans, 24.9 percent of Latinos, and 25.9 percent of American Indians live in poverty.
Geographic disparities offer another important lens. In Denver County, the poverty rate rose sharply to 21.6 percent in 2010, much higher than the statewide 13.4 percent. Median household income in Denver also decreased to $45,074 in 2010, from $47,422 in 2009.
The challenges are similar in Mesa County on Colorado's Western Slope, where the poverty rate increased to 16.4 percent in 2010 from 12.3 percent in 2009. Median household income decreased to $46,231 in 2010 from $53,297 in 2009.
In El Paso County, the state's largest county by population, the poverty rate increased to 13.5 percent in 2010 from 11.5 percent in 2009. Median household income decreased substantially to $51,458 for 2010, from $56,816 in 2009.
The official poverty-level income threshold for a single person in 2010 was $10,830, and for a family of four it was $22,050. Extensive research shows poverty-level income is nowhere near enough to make ends meet.
The hardship revealed in today's Census Bureau numbers was not confined to local areas or minority groups. Some of the other statewide findings:
Income in Colorado
- Real median household income in the United States fell between the 2009 ACS and the 2010 ACS, decreasing by 2.2 percent from $51,190 to $50,046
- Median household income in Colorado went down from $56,366 in 2009 to $54,046 in 2010, a 4.2 percent decrease.
Poverty in Colorado
- The overall poverty rate increased from 12.9 percent in 2009 to 13.4 percent in 2010, though this change is not statistically significant. Still, this amounts to about 659,786 Coloradans in poverty.
- The percentage of families living in poverty also increased to 9.4 percent in 2010. In 2008 only 7.9 percent of families lived in poverty.
- The percentage of children living in poverty remained at 17.4 percent, though due to population increases, the number of children in poverty increased to about 210,532.
- Single women with children younger than 5 years old continue to suffer the most, experiencing the highest rate of poverty of 50.2 percent, up 5 percentage points from 2009.
- Colorado experienced a statistically significant rise in deep poverty or the percentage of people living below half the official poverty threshold since the start of the recession, from 5.5 percent in 2007 to 6.0 percent in 2010.
Reducing hardship and restoring economic strength will require a coordinated, state and national response, White said.
"To avoid worsening poverty and undermining the economy's future, Congress must ensure that any attempt to reduce the nation's long-term deficit first draw a circle of protection around critical supports for struggling families. Programs like Medicaid, food assistance and child care assistance and the earned income tax credit have kept families from the devastating and lasting effects of deep poverty. To cut these programs now would be a short-sighted folly that will only prolong these difficult economic times and cause greater harm to American families and children," she said.
The Fiscal Policy Institute's analysis is available online.
The Colorado Fiscal Policy Institute is a project of the Center on Law and Policy, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research and advocacy organization seeking justice and economic security for all Coloradans.
Released Sept. 23, 2011