Rural counties reveal inequalities in Colorado | Cronin & Loevy | Premium

Colorado is among the wealthiest dozen states, according to most U.S. Census indicators such as median household income. But that masks the fact that our wealthy counties, about a dozen, are concentrated in upscale Denver suburbs and resort communities in the Rockies, many on I-70 west of Denver.

A visitor to Boulder, Douglas and Jefferson counties, or Aspen, Vail or Telluride, may leave dazzled by stately homes, trophy ranches, Tesla electric cars, and chic hotels and restaurants.

We all know about the Sun Belt and the Bible Belt. Well, there is a wealth belt, or wealth corridor, that runs through about 20 percent of Colorado. It’s a rectangle with Aspen and Steamboat Springs on the west end and Boulder, Broomfield, Cherry Hills Village and Castle Rock on the east. Colorado’s wealth is largely concentrated in this section of our state.

Yet our Eastern Plains counties, and especially our counties in southern Colorado, have thousands of households struggling to find and keep good jobs. Other families in these two regions suffer from wages below the poverty line.

Let’s look at southern Colorado. It has a high mountain range, the Sangre de Cristo mountains to the east. It features the magnificent landscapes of a major mountain pass, the Col de La Veta. It is home to a national park, Great Sand Dunes. It is one of the oldest and most historic parts of Colorado, with the state’s first successful human settlement in San Luis.

Southern Colorado is also the part of the state whose counties have the highest Colorado poverty percentages. In a few cases, poverty levels exceed 20 percent. Economists and the US Census differ a bit on what defines living in poverty, but the general agreement is that it refers to a family of four living on an income of less than about $ 28,000 a year.

Most of these counties in southern Colorado, but not all, have Spanish names. Compared to the rest of Colorado, they have higher percentages of Hispanic citizens. They are agricultural and experience low population growth. Some counties are experiencing a slight demographic decline.

We find it depressing that in this very historic and interesting part of our state, high rates of poverty are so prevalent.

Start with Costilla County (county seat – San Luis). It is located on Colorado’s southern border with New Mexico in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Costilla is the Spanish word for “coast” and supposedly describes the rough appearance of the nearby mountains. San Luis is Colorado’s oldest city. The percentage of people living in poverty in Costilla County, according to the census, is 24.6%, or nearly one in four people.

To put that number into perspective, the poverty level for Colorado as a whole is 9.3%. For the United States, it is 10.5%. In Denver 12.1% live in poverty. In El Paso County, the poverty rate is 8.8%, percent.

Another major county in southern Colorado is Conejos (Antonito) County. It is home to a tourist attraction – the Cumbres and Toltec narrow gauge steam railway. The poverty level is 19.9%, or nearly one in five people.

Alamosa County (Alamosa) is the center of the agricultural valley of San Luis. It contains the southern part of the Great Sand Dunes National Park. A public institution of higher education, Adams State University, is located there. The poverty rate is 19.6% percent.

A few counties in Colorado with high poverty rates are found outside of southern Colorado, but not at generally so high levels. On the Colorado Front Range, the heavily populated corridor that stretches from Pueblo County through Colorado Springs and Denver to Greeley and Fort Collins, Pueblo County has a poverty percentage of 17.8. It is the highest in the Front Range. As previously reported, Denver’s poverty line was 12.1 percent, less than two points above the US poverty rate of 10.5.

Off the Front Range, somewhat high poverty figures were mostly associated with agricultural counties. On the eastern plains of Colorado, along the Kansas border, Cheyenne County (Cheyenne Wells) recorded a poverty level of 13.7%. Neighboring Kiowa County (Eads) reported a poverty rate of 13.5%.

It was the same story for the agricultural counties of the western slope. Delta County (Delta) had a poverty rate of 15.1%. Montrose County (Montrose) recorded a poverty rate of 13.2%.

There will always be a big divide between the prosperous counties of Colorado and our poorer counties. This has not changed over the past decades. We doubt the government’s redistribution policies, such as the coronavirus food stamps and stimulus checks and the recently expanded child tax credit, will make a big difference. They do, however, make a certain difference.

Colorado’s political and business leaders can be proud of all of the economic improvements made in the Centennial State. Yet we must remember that our state will be judged on how it treats and supports the less fortunate. We need to have both public and private organizations dedicated to promoting equal economic opportunity, especially for young people looking for jobs and a living wage.

We have to ask ourselves if all is well in a state whose counties are on average four to five times the median household income of people living in just a few counties. About one in nine Colorado residents is poor. It is not surprising that many of them are children living with a single parent. First-rate educational opportunities available statewide are the obvious first need. But it will take a lot more.

Tom Cronin and Bob Loevy

• Tom Cronin and Bob Loevy write about Colorado and national issues.

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