Residents of La Plata County can take pride in its showing in the annual Kids Count report on the status of children. From a statewide point of view, however, the results are not so rosy. What that says about the larger economy is itself a cautionary tale.
The Kids Count report, a product of the Colorado Children’s Campaign, showed the overall score for La Plata County ranking ninth among the state’s 25 largest counties. That is up from 11th in 2012. The county is below average in births to teen mothers and mothers who have not completed high school. And a whopping 99.8 percent of the county’s kindergartners attend a full-day program.
That is all good, but it is not true statewide. The report also showed 224,000 children in this state live in poverty. That is about one in six and more than at the worst part of the Great Recession. Since 2000, Colorado’s childhood poverty rate has risen faster than all but two other states.
Our neighbors to the west did not fare well either. More than 40 percent of babies in Montezuma County are born to single mothers, and more than 22 percent of mothers lack a high school diploma. Both those measures are up from two years ago. Only 37.1 percent of the county’s kindergarten students – about half the state average – are in a full-day program.
In the ranking of the largest counties, Montezuma County fell from 21st to 24th. Denver was 25th.
There are some high points across the state. Since 2010, Colorado’s high school graduation rate has increased by 5 percentage points. It is now 77 percent. During the last decade, the rate of uninsured children has gone down, and 63,000 more children now have health insurance.
On balance, this year’s Kids Count report has to be seen as a mixed bag. The numbers for La Plata County are certainly hopeful. And that is especially true in that the results cannot be chocked up to wealth. The county’s median household income is about $1,000 less than the statewide average of $56,880. It is more like we are doing some things right.
The state’s overall numbers, however, need work. In particular, the number of kids living in poverty is unacceptable. While La Plata County shows the correlation between income and wellness is not absolute, that there is a relationship is undeniable.
Worse, in many situations, the state’s poverty rate may be systemic. As Gov. John Hickenlooper has said, Colorado’s economy is and has been recovering from the Great Recession. But it has not done so uniformly. As the governor put it, “I think a lot of childhood poverty is in populations that have not really been engaged in the recovery.”
At this point, that also suggests that they might not become “engaged in the recovery.” Colorado’s childhood poverty rate could be an ongoing issue. And with that, there may be little hope for some of the other statewide numbers.
So, congratulations to all concerned for La Plata County’s healthy showing. Now perhaps we can work on sharing some of that success with other parts of Colorado that could use it.