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Analyst: Jump in CO Poverty Figures Don't Tell Whole Story

September 30, 2009

DENVER - New U.S. Census Bureau data shows a rise in poverty in Colorado, and the reality could actually be worse than the latest numbers, according to a budget analyst.

Kathy White, project director for the Colorado Fiscal Policy Institute, says it's important to note that the state didn't begin to feel the major effects of the current recession until late 2008, trailing other parts of the country by almost a year - and well after the numbers used in the latest report were collected.

"We have to remember that the numbers that are going to come out next year are likely going to be much worse."

The Census Bureau says 11.4 percent of Coloradans lived in poverty in 2008, compared to 9.6 percent during the previous recession in 2001. White says the numbers, released on Tuesday, show that the state never fully recovered from the last recession.

"Families were going into this recession in a much more vulnerable place than they were going into the last recession."

While lawmakers are considering significant cuts to social services to balance the budget, White believes they should focus instead on finding ways to help struggling families in order to fuel a swifter and stronger economic recovery.

"Those decisions are being made absent a real, true picture of what's happening with Colorado families."

Another problem, she says, is that the census numbers are about a year old by the time they are released, while budget decisions are made in real-time.

Colorado's poverty rate remains below the national level of over 13 percent, although White calls the growth in child poverty in the state "alarming." The numbers also show no significant gain in median income for Coloradans.

Eric Mack, Public News Service - CO