Dolls are cute, but stats about kids in poverty are ugly

Childhood poverty continues to rise in Colorado, and significant disparities in child well-being exist based on where children live and their racial and ethnic backgrounds, according to the 2010 KIDS COUNT in Colorado! report, released this week by the Colorado Children’s Campaign. The annual publication provides state and county level data on a number of child well-being factors including child health, education and economic status.

Chris Watney, president of the Colorado Children’s Campaign, is flanked by Gov. Bill Ritter and other advocates for children as she talks about the recently released report which shows that since 2000, the number of children living in poverty has grown faster in Colorado than in any other state.
Photo by Jamie Cotten/The Colorado Statesman

Since 2000, the number of children living in poverty has grown faster in Colorado than in any other state in the nation. The number of children living at or below the federal poverty level — about $22,000 for a family of four — rose 72 percent in Colorado between 2000 and 2008, according to U.S. Census Bureau data cited in the report.

“By many different measures, poverty is the largest obstacle to opportunity for Colorado’s children, leading to negative outcomes that impact nearly every other measure of their well-being,” said Chris Watney, president of the Colorado Children’s Campaign. “Kids growing up in poverty struggle with health problems, low educational achievement and other challenges that decrease their chances of lifelong success.”

“Supporting our children not only provides for their health, safety and well-being today, but ensures our collective success tomorrow, as these kids are Colorado’s future teachers, CEOs, scientists and community leaders,” said Gov. Bill Ritter.

The data in KIDS COUNT shows the growth of poverty and its impacts are disproportionately affecting minority children and children living in certain regions, counties and neighborhoods. Specifically, Hispanic and black children are twice as likely to live in poverty as their white counterparts.

Rep. Cherylin Peniston, D-Westminster, pledges allegiance to the flag on April 13. Denver Democratic Rep. Lois Court, at her left, holds the young daughter of Rep. Karen Middleton during the morning festivities in the House.
Photo by Jamie Cotten/The Colorado Statesman

Also, poverty is growing faster in the suburbs of Denver than anywhere else in the state, consistent with national suburbanization of poverty trends. According to the report, in Colorado, about 75,000 more children lived in poverty in 2008 than in 2000. Most of these children lived in six Front Range communities: Adams, Arapahoe, Denver, Boulder, El Paso and Jefferson counties. Because a majority of Colorado’s population lives in these communities, the significant numbers of poor children in these areas is anticipated.

However, the rate of increase of children living in poverty is dramatic. For example, the percent increase in the number of children in poverty between 2000 and 2008 in Adams County was 96 percent; in Arapahoe County it was 100 percent; and in Jefferson County it was 62 percent.

“The shifts in poverty create an increased demand for services in our suburban areas. Unfortunately, resources have not increased in proportion to the demand,” said Watney. “Identifying where children currently live in poverty will help policymakers determine how to best allocate limited resources to serve those families.”

Disparities based on racial and ethnic backgrounds are also prominent in the areas of educational and health achievement. For example, according to the report, in 2009, the majority of white students and Asian students were proficient in reading, while only about half of Hispanic and black students were proficient. Hispanic and black children in Colorado also face health barriers at greater rates than their white and Asian counterparts. Hispanic children are three times more likely to be uninsured than white children, and black children are almost twice as likely to be uninsured than white children.

Other key facts in the 2010 KIDS COUNT report include:

• Colorado is among the top 10 states in the nation with a growing child population. Like other states in the nation, Colorado’s Hispanic birth rate is increasing, while the white birth rate is decreasing. So, the greatest area of growth is in the population that shows the biggest gap in income and achievement.

Rep. Wes McKinley, D-Walsh, reads the back of a cardboard doll which explains the dramatic increase of children living in poverty.
Photo by Jamie Cotten/The Colorado Statesman

• While poverty rates are still highest in the San Luis Valley and the urban core, the fastest growth of children in poverty is in our suburban counties. The suburbanization of poverty is a national trend as well, and is dramatically reflected in the data on the Denver suburbs.

• Since the late 1990s, Colorado has had a higher percentage of uninsured children compared to the nation as a whole. In 2007, 12 percent or 161,000 Colorado children were not covered by health insurance at any point during the year in Colorado

• The cost of child care (both child care centers and family care homes) in Colorado is among the highest in the country, with the price of infant center care costing nearly $12,000 annually.

• Black, Hispanic and Native American students are much less likely to graduate from high school than are Asian or white students—a trend that is alarming given that Hispanic students represent almost 30 percent of our student body and are the fastest growing demographic in Colorado.

“These facts can be hard to face but one thing that we’ve learned over the last 25 years, is that data can be a critical catalyst for change,” said Watney. “We hope this information continues to serve as a valuable resource to advocates, policymakers and leaders across the state as we all work together to make Colorado a great place to grow up.”

For more information or to access the full 2010 KIDS COUNT in Colorado! report, please visit www.coloradokids.org.