As Coloradans start to imagine rebuilding an economy after the pandemic, a newly released report suggests that, as of the end of 2018, many parts of rural Colorado still haven’t recovered from the recession of 2008-2010.
Published by the Colorado Center on Law and Policy, the 2020 State of Working Colorado shows that the state’s impressive economic growth has largely been enjoyed by urban areas along the Front Range.
This was not necessarily the case for rural counties in the state. To provide a more complete picture of economic conditions in our state, the report provides a range of statistics that showcases the differences both between rural and urban Colorado, and between different regions.
Among the report’s findings:
Almost all of Colorado’s labor force is found in urban counties, while many rural counties have seen their labor force shrink. The share of the state’s labor force living in an urban county increased from 86.7% in 2010 to 88.2% in 2018, while the share living in rural areas decreased from 13.3% to 11.8% over the same period. However, changes in labor force size varied tremendously by county, even within rural areas. For example, the labor force in Hinsdale County grew by the fastest rate in the state, increasing by an annual rate of 6.5%. On the other hand, the labor force of San Juan County decreased by an annual rate of 7.3% between 2010 and 2018. A number of counties in Colorado, particularly rural counties, have seen their Gross Domestic Product decline in recent years, even before the state of the COVID-19 pandemic. At least nine counties in the state saw their GDPs decline the two years previous to 2018, while 18 counties saw their GDPs decline between 2017 and 2018. On the other hand, one-third of Colorado’s counties saw faster rates of economic growth than the state as a whole. While recessions are not measured on a county-by-county basis, a number of the state’s rural counties experienced economic conditions that could qualify them as being in a recession, contrary to Colorado’s overall GDP growth in recent years.The impact of COVID-19 on rural economies has been mixed. The effects of COVID-19 on Colorado counties’ economies largely varies on geography and the degree to which the county’s economy is tied to the tourism and outdoor recreation industries. As of November, 10 out of the 11 counties that had recovered the jobs lost since February 2020 were in rural parts of the state. Troublingly, many parts of the state have seen unemployment tick up in October and November. This includes counties in the southwestern part of the state. La Plata County, for instance has seen its unemployment rate rise from 5.1% in September to 6% in November. Similarly, Archuleta, Dolores, Montezuma, and San Juan counties all experienced job losses between October and November, signaling that economic recovery has stalled in Southwest Colorado. All told, the report shows that too many working families in Colorado are struggling to make ends meet while the wealth generated in our economy has been increasingly distributed to a small few. In other words, our economy is not truly working for most Coloradans. This was the case even before the COVID-19 pandemic began. Though we don’t know when this public health emergency will end and when our national and state economies will begin to truly recover, these findings show why we should not settle for simply a return to a “normal” economy that failed to provide economic security for many Coloradans.
With a state legislative session starting in mid-January, CCLP supports increasing funding for the eviction legal defense program, establishing inclusionary zoning to let local governments set affordable housing requirements for new units and legislation to ensure that more Coloradans can access health coverage. Hopefully, Congress will soon pass another federal stimulus program, since many provisions of the CARES Act – such as expanded eligibility for unemployment insurance – will soon expire and the statewide relief efforts simply won’t provide what’s needed for Coloradans living on the edge of poverty. Regardless, long-term solutions to the inequities that weigh on the workforce are desperately needed.
As Colorado’s General Assembly prepares to convene in January – and with new leadership preparing to take the reins in Washington – we hope the fallout from the pandemic will inspire elected officials to pass legislation that transforms our state and national economies into economies where everyone has a chance to succeed.
Charles Brennan is deputy director of research for Colorado Center on Law and Policy, a nonprofit research, legislative and legal advocacy organization committed to joining diverse communities to promote racial equity and remove systemic barriers in the fight against poverty. He can be reached at email@example.com