The percentage of Colorado children living in poverty decreased in 2013 for the first time since the economic downturn in 2008, but minorities and children living in rural areas of the state continue to face high rates of poverty, according to the 2015 Colorado Kids Count report.
The report, compiled annually by the nonprofit Colorado Children’s Campaign, defined poverty for a typical family of four as living with a total annual income of $23,550 or less. About 17 percent of Colorado’s children — roughly 207,000 residents younger than 18 — were living in poverty in 2013 (the most recent data available).
While there remains a large number of poor children in the state, Colorado experienced an 18 percent decrease from 2012, when about 224,000 were living in poverty. Among the children living in El Paso County in 2013, 13.8 percent were living in poverty, compared to 18.2 percent in 2012, according to the report.
El Paso County moved up in the report’s 2013 Child Well-Being Index to become the state’s eighth-best county for children, up from No. 10 for 2012, reflecting slightly improved quality of life. El Paso County trails Douglas, Boulder, Larimer and Jefferson counties.
The rate of poverty remains highest among rural populations as opposed to urban.
El Paso County is considered to have a “mixed rural” population, meaning a diversity of trends when it comes to economic and quality-of-life indicators.
“El Paso County, for example, is home to urban areas such as Colorado Springs, but it also encompasses many small rural communities,” the Colorado Children’s Campaign said in its report. “No method can perfectly capture the nuances of each Colorado community, but we believe the one selected and used throughout KIDS COUNT is most appropriate for Colorado.”
The report stated that “mixed rural” counties are characterized as meeting “neither rural nor urban criteria and has a population density of fewer than 320 people per square mile.” Although Colorado Springs is moderately dense, the county’s size and abundance of open space to the east affect this distinction.
The southeastern third of the county was classified as a food desert, meaning that impoverished residents in that region “have little to no access to full-service grocery stores with nutritious, healthy foods. Instead they are often limited to convenience stores where, when available, healthy food is more expensive than cheaper, calorie-dense foods.”
While El Paso County’s total population grew from 646,160 in 2012 to 655,812 in 2013, its child (under 18) population rose from 166,603 to 168,039 (from 25.8 percent of total population to 25.6 percent.
Although the report indicates improving quality of life for children in most of the state, many children in El Paso County continue to receive benefits commonly associated with life near or below the poverty line.
Among the county’s 114,369 K-12 students last year, 39.1 percent or 44,712 were eligible for free or reduced-price lunch — 35,759 (31.3 percent) for free lunch and 8,953 (7.83 percent) for reduced-price lunch, according to the Colorado Department of Education.
School districts in the area with the highest number of children receiving these benefits are Harrison 2, Colorado Springs 11 and Falcon 49.
Of Harrison’s 11,441 students in 2014, 72 percent or 8,233 children received free (62.5 percent) or reduced-price (9.4 percent) lunches. Of District 11’s 27,676 students, 59.5 percent or 16,467 children received free (49.35 percent) or reduced-price (10.15 percent) lunches.