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Colorado Child Poverty Is Down, But Not In Rural Areas

Bente Birkeland

Child poverty continues to be most prevalent in rural areas of Colorado. The 2015 edition of the Kids Count in Colorado! report shows that the economic recovery has been an uneven one, with many rural areas of the state still experiencing high levels of child poverty. There is some good news - child poverty in Colorado has declined for the first time since 2008.

The latest data found that 23 percent of children in rural counties live in poverty, but the definition of "rural" is changing.

The report, compiled by the Colorado Children's Campaign and titled From Plains to Plateaus: Examining Child Well-Being Across Colorado Places, focused on the obstacles and opportunities facing child well-being by community type. It examines a variety of indicators by dividing Colorado's 64 counties in four categories: urban, mixed urban, mixed rural and rural.

Credit Sarah Hughes / Colorado Children's Campaign
Colorado Children's Campaign
The geographic patterns in child poverty in Colorado mirror national trends, as child poverty rates have historically been higher in rural areas than in urban areas across the U.S. Nationally, the child poverty rate for rural areas hit a record high of 27 percent in 2012.

"The rural counties on the eastern plains have seen a huge migration out of their communities particularly during the recession. Now on the other side of the spectrum, some of our rural resort communities have experienced significant growth in their child populations," said Stephanie Hughes, a data researcher with the Colorado Children's Campaign.

The lack of people living in the eastern plains means a smaller tax base for schools, while resort communities don't have enough schools or health care providers for their increasing number of children. Both scenarios are leading to higher poverty rates. Forty-two of Colorado's 64 counties are classified as rural.

Credit Sarah Hughes / Colorado Children's Campaign
Colorado Children's Campaign
The annual report on child well-being showed that 23 percent of children in the state's rural counties lived in poverty in 2013, up from 20 percent at the start of the recession in 2007 and higher than the statewide average of 17 percent.

For the fourth year, the report includes a Child Well-being Index that compares how children are faring in Colorado's largest 25 counties by using 12 indicators to assess children's health, education and family and community support. The index shows that child well-being varies widely from community to community.

"Douglas County, obviously the wealthiest county in Colorado continues to rank first." Hughes said. "We did see a bit of a shake up at the bottom of the list, for the last three years, Denver County has ranked last every single year, and now Montezuma County in the southwestern portion of the state ranks 25th."

Two northern Colorado counties are in the top 5 for child well-being -- Boulder ranks third and Larimer fourth while Weld County stayed in the same place as last year -- 15th. 

Northern Colorado County Highlights


The county continues to be highly ranked for overall child well-being. In 2015, Larimer County ranked fifth out of the largest 25 counties in the state, according to the Colorado Child Well-Being Index. The Colorado Child Well-Being Index ranks counties on overall child well-being using factors such as infant mortality, child poverty, children in single-parent families, and the high school dropout rate.

Larimer County's high school graduation rate, however, declined for the second year in a row. In 2014, 80 percent of Larimer County students graduated high school on time, down from 82 percent in 2013.


Since 2000, the child population in Weld County has grown faster than almost anywhere else in the state, behind only Douglas County. Perhaps related to that tremendous growth in the number of children, Weld County also has very limited capacity in licensed child care centers, family child care homes and preschools. Weld County only has enough slots in licensed child care settings to serve approximately 18 percent of all children under 6 in the county. Not all children under 6 need formal child care, of course, but it's doubtful that the existing number of slots in Weld County is not enough to serve all children who do need it. Without access to a stable, consistent source of child care, families may have a hard time obtaining or maintaining stable employment.


The county continues to be one of the top counties for child well-being. Boulder County ranked fourth out of the largest 25 counties in 2015. Not much changed for Boulder in the most recent Kids Count. Its child poverty rate continues to be below the statewide average (13 percent compared to 17 percent) and remained fairly flat between 2012 and 2013.

Read the full Kids Count report [.pdf]

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