U.S. Census: Impoverished areas growing in El Paso County

December 14, 2010
photo - Jay Abbott and his wife, Frozie, chose to remain on Mill St. even after they had a house fire. Their neighborhood is one of the poorest in El Paso County. Jay is a welder and made the fence to match an old gate they found behind the house.  Photo by JERILEE BENNETT,  THE GAZETTE
Jay Abbott and his wife, Frozie, chose to remain on Mill St. even after they had a house fire. Their neighborhood is one of the poorest in El Paso County. Jay is a welder and made the fence to match an old gate they found behind the house. Photo by JERILEE BENNETT, THE GAZETTE 

The poor in El Paso County are growing in number, and more areas of the region are considered impoverished, according to U.S. Census data released Tuesday.

Data released by the 2005-2009 American Community Survey show that about one in five neighborhoods, or census tracts, have an estimated 20 percent or more of the population living below the poverty level. In 2000, the rate was one in 15.

Increasing poverty is a fact throughout the county, not just in the poorest neighborhoods. Since 2000, an estimated 77 percent of neighborhoods in the county showed an increase in the number of people living there below the poverty line – 14 of those neighborhoods showed an increase of 10 percentage points or more.

In 2009, the federal poverty level was $22,050 for a family of four.

The 2005-2009 American Community Survey are estimates based on surveys distributed throughout the United States. The data include a time period just before and during one of the county’s worst economic recessions, when the poverty rate in the county was 11 percent, compared to 12 percent statewide.

The estimates mark the first time that neighborhood-level information has been released by the U.S. Census since 2000.  The estimates are not part of the 2010 Census, which will have its first release of data on Dec. 21.

The data show that the neighborhoods with the highest poverty levels now make up a larger portion of El Paso County. In 2000, the highest poverty rates were mostly concentrated just south of downtown Colorado Springs. Now, areas in which at least 20 percent of residents live below the poverty line constitute almost the entire southeast portion of the city.

The areas with the lowest poverty rates continue to be in northern Colorado Springs, just east of Interstate 25.

The spread of poverty throughout the county is a natural result of the higher unemployment rate, said Fred Crowley, senior economist for the Southern Colorado Economic Forum. As more people have lost jobs, the income levels of the neighborhoods in which they live have declined.

“This kind of trend is not necessarily dependent on the neighborhood,” he said. “That there’s a general wide-scale increase of low-income households and poverty levels isn’t surprising.”

One of the poorest neighborhoods is census tract 61, flanked on the east by Murray Boulevard, on the west by Academy Boulevard, on the north by Platte Avenue and by Airport Road on the south. In 2000, the neighborhood had the second-highest poverty rate in the county, at 26 percent , and had a median household income of $27,097. In the latest census data, the poverty rate surged to 42.45 percent , and the median household income has dropped by more than $3,000.  In this neighborhood, 11.2 percent of the residents have a bachelor’s degree or higher.

Other neighborhoods have managed to remain stable or improve slightly, despite recent economic hardships.

In 2000, the area with the highest poverty rate was census tract 23 , just south of downtown. Trains rumbling through blast their horns day and night, small historic homes vary widely in upkeep, and the city’s largest homeless shelter is part of the neighborhood.  In 2000, the poverty rate in this area was 40.2 percent. Median household income was $14,700 and 15 percent of people had a bachelor’s degree or higher.

In recent years, there have been steady improvements. The poverty rate has dropped a bit to 40.1 percent . Also the median household income has increased by almost $5,000 since 2000, and the percentage of residents with bachelor’s degrees has increased to 23 percent.

Long-time neighbors say they’re trying to make a difference. A local neighborhood association regularly sponsors activities, including a neighborhood cleanup and holiday parties. Increasingly, younger people who want a historic home, and to live close to downtown, are investing in the area.

Chad Traxler  was recently putting a fresh coat of white paint on the trim of a Victorian house he bought in October.

He’s started what he figures will be a two-year renovation to modernize the home. On his block on South Cascade Avenue are a mixture of homes – some beautifully renovated, others falling apart. Traxler moved here because he sees signs of life, including new businesses and residents working to improve their homes.

When he lived in Washington D.C., he bought a home in a similar neighborhood.

“It turned out to be a really unique and fun neighborhood,” he said. “This was exactly the kind of neighborhood I was looking for when I came to Colorado Springs.”



El Paso County’s highest poverty area
Census tract 61
Boundaries: Murray Boulevard on the east, Academy Boulevard on the west, Platte Avenue to the north and Airport Road to the south.
Poverty rate: 42.45 percent
Median household income: $23,958
Percent of households that are rented: 75.40 percent
Percent of residents who are not U.S. citizens: 16.14 percent
Percent who have a bachelor’s degree or higher: 11.2 percent

El Paso County’s lowest poverty area
Census tract 72
Boundaries: Highway 83 on the east, Interstate 25 on the west Baptist Road on the north and Old Ranch Road on the south.
Poverty rate: 1.11 percent
Median household income: $107,133
Percent of household that are rented: 23.08 percent
Percent of residents who are not U.S. citizens: 2.48 percent
Percent who have a bachelor’s degree or higher: 66.92 percent

Source: Gazette analysis



  • The number of neighborhoods, or census tracts, with at least 20 percent of residents living in poverty doubled from about one in 10 in 2000 to one in five by the end of the decade.
  • For children, the increase was even more dramatic.  In 2000, one out of every five neighborhoods had at least 20 percent of its children living in poverty. That rose to one out of every three neighborhoods. The number of neighborhoods with at least 30 percent of the children in poverty almost tripled during the decade from 74 to 206.
  • Denver’s Sun Valley remained the poorest neighborhood in the state with 78 percent of its residents living in poverty. That was slightly higher than the 70 percent in 2000. In all, three of the poorest neighborhoods were in Denver. Three others were in Weld County, including the second and third highest with 73 percent and 64 percent poverty rates. For child poverty, the Weld County neighborhood just north of the University of Northern Colorado had the highest rate at 87 percent. Sun Valley had the second highest rate, 83 percent.

Source: Rocky Mountain Investigative News Network

Contact the writer at 636-0274.

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