The number of children living in poverty has been growing faster in Colorado than anywhere else in the nation, and El Paso County has experienced one of the highest growth rates in the state, according to a report released Tuesday.
The report, “2010 Kids Count in Colorado!”, says the number of Colorado children living at or below the federal poverty level of about $22,000 for a family of four rose 72 percent between 2000 and 2008.
Although the San Luis Valley and Denver’s urban core have the state’s highest poverty rates, the number of kids living in poverty grew faster in several Front Range counties than anywhere else in Colorado — a national trend known as the “suburbanization of poverty.”
In El Paso County, the number of children in poverty jumped by 63 percent from 2000 to 2008, the same rate as Denver. In the same period, Arapahoe County saw a 100 percent increase; Adams County, 96 percent; and Jefferson County, 62 percent.
But it’s not just the rapid rise of childhood poverty that concerns officials with the Colorado Children’s Campaign, which released the report. They’re also dismayed by the huge gaps between the haves and have-nots based on race, ethnicity and location.
According to the report, Hispanic and black children in Colorado are twice as likely to live in poverty as white kids. They also face significant health barriers and fall short in educational achievement compared with white and Asian children.
For example, Hispanic children are three times more likely to be uninsured compared with white children, according to the report, and black kids are almost twice as likely to be uninsured.
“By many different measures, poverty is the largest obstacle to opportunity for Colorado’s kids, and what we see in this data is that poverty is impacting children disproportionately in our state,” said Chris Watney, president of the Colorado Children’s Campaign.
In El Paso County 14.6 percent of kids 18 and under were living in poverty in 2008, slightly higher than the statewide figure of 14.4 percent. But Lisa Piscopo, senior research director for the Colorado Children’s Campaign, said that doesn’t tell the whole story.
She noted that 32 percent of El Paso County children were eligible to receive free or reduced lunches in 2008. Eligibility is based on a family of four earning up to 185 percent of the federal poverty level — about $41,000, which, she said, is still not enough to provide sound financial footing.
“That means almost a third of your kids are really in conditions where they’re struggling,” she said.
Piscopo said the data used in the report were collected before anyone felt the full impact of the recession, so she expects the next report to be even more sobering.
That wouldn’t surprise Rochelle Schlortt, a spokeswoman for Catholic Charities of Colorado Springs. At the organization’s Marion House Soup Kitchen, about 5,000 kids got meals in the fiscal year ending in 2008. In the fiscal year ending in 2009, the number was almost 10,000.
“When I ask our soup kitchen director, ‘What are you seeing?’ I hear ‘More faces, more families, more kids',” she said.
The “Kids Count in Colorado!” report does not contain any recommendations to address childhood poverty because the foundation that funds all Kids Count reports nationwide wants it to be a nonpartisan, unbiased data document, Piscopo said.
Read the full report here. For more in-depth statistics about the child poverty rate in Colorado and El Paso County over the years, go to the Kids Count Data Center at http://datacenter.kidscount.org.