Colorful Commentary

Poverty, Race, and Population Boom: 5 Census Takeaways for Colorado

Posted October 25, 2017 by Caitlin Schneider

By Elizabeth Cheever and Michael Wu

The Census Bureau released state-level economic and poverty numbers for 2016 last month. Colorado’s data follow the trends seen nationwide: increases in household income, decreases in poverty, and more people with health insurance. At CFI, we can’t let a juicy set of numbers go by without crunching them, so here are five takeaways from the latest Colorado Census data.

This analysis includes a sample of counties across Colorado. These counties were selected to show a broad range of economic and demographic factors.

1. The basics have improved since the recession, but too many people still live in poverty.

In 2016, median household income in Colorado was $65,685. The overall poverty rate in the state is 11%, and the child poverty rate in Colorado is 13.1%. Broadly speaking, that means Colorado is doing better than it was before the great recession. In 2007, the overall poverty rate was 12% and the child poverty rate was 15.9%. Below you’ll see it’s a little more complicated than that: counties along the Front Range and I-70 corridor have bounced back, but many rural areas are struggling. And let’s not forget: the 2016 poverty rate means nearly 600,000 state residents – including 162,000 children – live below the poverty line in our state.


2. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) and Medicaid expansion have helped thousands of Coloradans get health care.

The numbers speak for themselves: expanding Medicaid in 2014 made it possible for hundreds of thousands of Coloradans to get access to health care. Nearly 1.4 million people in our state are covered by Medicaid, and 40% of children in Colorado rely on Medicaid for medical care.

Health Coverage #2

People in counties with high median incomes are still more likely to be insured, but the ACA has helped shrink that gap. Living in poverty means basic needs often go unmet. Under the ACA, health insurance is one less thing struggling families need to worry about.


3.  A population boom and a more diverse state affect who thrives in our economy.

Colorado’s population rose by more than half a million, or 14%, between 2007 and 2016. Along with the major population influx, our state’s racial makeup continues to diversify—a trend that is expected to continue. White Coloradans made up 70% of the population in 2016 (compared to 72% in 2007) and Latinos are 22% of Coloradans in the most recent census, up from 20%. More than ever, it is crucial that our economy works for everyone. The children in Colorado’s schools today will be the workers and taxpayers supporting our aging population in the future. Investing in children of color, making sure they have access to quality education and economic opportunity, is an investment in prosperity across the state.

Boom in Population #3

4.  Colorado’s county poverty numbers tell a more complex story.

Comparing poverty rates among counties reveals significant differences in prosperity and economic well-being across Colorado. Examining county-level data is important, because state totals can obscure the struggles of rural communities. All Coloradans have an interest in seeing statewide economic prosperity, not just concentrated wealth in certain areas.


5.  Racial inequality persists throughout the state.


The census data show stark racial inequality in Colorado. People of color face significant barriers on the road to economic security. Latinos in our state are more than twice as likely as whites to be poor, and nearly a quarter of Native Americans live below the poverty line. When opportunity is limited for any Coloradan, our state economy misses out on prosperity, innovation, and growth.


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