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Bridging the Widening Poverty Gaps in CO

September 27, 2012

DENVER - Colorado's poverty rate is 13.5 percent, according to new U.S. Census data. But the picture looks much more bleak among some demographic groups.

Poverty is aiming its biggest punch at single mothers with children younger than age 5. In Colorado, almost half of single-parent families headed by women are poor. The state is making some economic-development efforts, and Kathy White, deputy project director for the Colorado Center on Law and Policy, says some small policy changes could make a big difference.

"If you increase a family's income through things like an Earned Income Tax Credit or a Child Tax Credit, by just a couple thousand dollars when that child is under 5, you make a huge impact on their lifetime earnings and their lifetime achievement."

The state has an Earned Income Tax Credit, but it hasn't been funded since 2002.

CCLP has a new report that makes policy recommendations based on the census data. One is the need to shore up child-care programs, so that single parents are able to work full-time and pull themselves out of poverty.

Dawn Marquantte of Denver is a single mother of five who says even something as simple as making child-care assistance transferable between counties would be a big help when people move to find jobs or affordable housing. She wishes every state lawmaker would commit to spending a day or a week with a single-parent family.

"A lot of legislators, I don't think they understand what we have to go through to really, really make it work. I mean, we're talking about the income and the financial part - but what about the stress and your health - when there's no leeway, anyway?"

The poverty rate for children in Colorado is 17.5 percent.

The other striking disparities in the census numbers underscore the racial differences in the state. Only one in 10 white Coloradans lives in poverty, but White says it is one in four Latinos and African-Americans.

"This disparity between earnings and income has persisted and sort of deepened in some cases during the recession. We can't just be on autopilot; we need to look at these numbers and really start to address some of these growing disparities."

She points to health-care reform as one bright spot in the census numbers, because more Colorado adults and children now have health insurance.

The report is online at

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - CO