Family hiking on summer vacation in Colorado mountains. (copy)

A family hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Fifteenth place in a field of 50 is nothing to celebrate. That’s Colorado’s ranking in WalletHub’s 2021 list of “Best and Worst States to Raise a Family.”

The Centennial State falls just below Wisconsin and one notch above Illinois.

There is a sliver of good news in this ranking. In 15th place, Colorado stands heads and shoulders above Alabama at No. 44. Hear that, President Joe Biden. Then-President Donald Trump ordered the Pentagon this month to move Space Command from Colorado Springs to the 44th worst state in which to raise a family. Good luck attracting the best and brightest to serve our country’s newest strategic command.

-Colorado listed as 15th best state to raise a family

Texas, another state considered for Space Command, ranks 28th. Contender Florida ranked 36th, and New Mexico ranked as the worst state in which to bring up a family. Among the six finalists, only Nebraska topped Colorado with its 11th-place ranking.

This is not a random list based on the perceptions of a travel writer. WalletHub, quickly rivaling U.S. News & World Report as the best among “Best-of List Publishers,” used a methodology that scored states on a basis of “family fun,” “health & safety,” “education and child care,” “affordability,” and “socio-economics.”

In each category, researchers dug into data as diverse as “separation and divorce rate,” “infant mortality,” “housing affordability,” “graduation rates,” and even COVID-19 deaths and “weekly positive testing rate.” The system combined 52 data points for each state with information provided by the U.S. Census Bureau, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and about 25 other private and public national agencies.

Colorado ranks fairly well in terms of “family fun,” coming in 7th. The state scored 24th for health and safety, 27th for education and child care and 29th for affordability.

Lists of this kind are not mere fun-and-games and water cooler talking points. Some of the country’s most enviable employers use them when deciding where they should expand or relocate operations or headquarters. So do good families with high incomes and skills.

Colorado business leaders and politicians at the city, county and state levels should consider 15th place on any credible quality-of-life index a disappointment begging for policy adjustments.

To raise Colorado’s stature as a family-friendly state, public officials should start by addressing our too-high cost of living. We’re in 29th place for affordability because of a housing shortage. Rents and mortgages are out of reach for too many average young families because supply does not keep pace with demand.

Developers and builders will happily fill the void if the regulatory environment encourages doing so. Any homebuilder or developer knows how difficult our state, county and local governments make it to construct entry-level housing throughout much of Colorado. Even potential disruption to a common field mouse can lead to costly mitigation or outright permit denial.

Most notably, Colorado’s construction defects law continues to create legal liabilities that disincentivize the building of affordable homes. Legislators have for decades gifted trial attorneys, represented by powerful lobbyists, with a regulatory environment that heavily incentivizes defect lawsuits. The risks of large claims and awards raise the cost of building condominiums, townhouses, and other multifamily dwelling units in appropriate zones. It is time to fix this dilemma once and for all. Make laws for average people, not predatory lawyers desperate for work.

As a state made up heavily of educated professionals, Colorado should not rank 27th for the quality and availability of early education and child care facilities. Gov. Jared Polis partially addressed this concern with his push for “free” all-day kindergarten, but we could do more to make this a child-friendly state.

Colorado is the playground of the West and should not become an exclusionary fiefdom of privileged adults. For young families with children, it should always be an affordable, safe, and healthy place to live, learn and grow.

The Gazette Editorial Board

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