Child­hood poverty data called mis­lead­ing

Colorado has dou­ble the im­prove­ment rate of U.S. over­all, but the num­bers don’t show whole pic­ture.

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Danika Wor­thing­ton

Child­hood poverty de­creased in Colorado at twice the na­tional rate from 2010 to 2015, sig­nal­ing a faster re­cov­ery from the Great Re­ces­sion here than in the coun­try as a whole.

But Front Range food banks and shel­ters say the Cen­sus statis­tics re­leased this week are mis­lead­ing as they see more and more work­ing-poor fam­i­lies strug­gling to cover ris­ing rents, food costs and unan­tic­i­pated fi­nan­cial stres­sors, such as ill­nesses and bro­k­endown cars.

“The num­bers are not al­ways re­flec­tive of re­al­ity,” said Weld Food Bank ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Bob O’Con­nor.

Colorado had 183,216 chil­dren un­der the age of 18 liv­ing in poverty in 2015, down 11.6 per­cent from 2010, the height of the Great Re­ces­sion, ac­cord­ing to data re­leased by the U.S. Cen­sus Bu­reau. Mean­while, the U.S. as a whole has seen only a 4.8 per­cent de­crease, with a lit­tle more than 15 mil­lion kids liv­ing in poverty last year.

For all ages, poverty in Colorado went down 5.7 per­cent to 614,410 in 2015 from 2010. The U.S. was flat com­pared with 2010, with 46.2 mil­lion peo­ple liv­ing in poverty last year.

Colorado had the na­tion’s sev­enth-big­gest drop. Ver­mont led the way with a 20.1 per­cent de­crease in child­hood poverty.

“It 100 per­cent has to do with the fact that the eco­nomic con­di­tions in the state are so much bet­ter than they were five years ago,” said state de­mog­ra­pher El­iz­a­beth Garner.

Colorado’s av­er­age un­em­ploy­ment was 3.9 per­cent last year, down from 8.7 per­cent in 2010, she said.

But that eco­nomic growth has left many fam­i­lies be­hind, Mile High Be­hav­ioral Health­care CEO Robert Dor­shimer said. The non­profit runs three shel­ters, in­clud­ing one for fam­i­lies that is lo­cated

on the Adams County side of Aurora.

“While peo­ple were get­ting jobs and do­ing bet­ter, and the econ­omy was do­ing bet­ter, and as ev­ery­one was drink­ing and eat­ing steak, what we no­ticed is we had more fam­i­lies lin­ing up to get a meal,” Dor­shimer said.

The Aurora shel­ter two years ago started to see an in­crease in work­ing poor fam­i­lies who were pushed out of Den­ver by ris­ing rents, he said. Fam­i­lies were forced to put more money to­ward hous­ing, cut­ting into bud­gets for food, school sup­plies and clothes for kids.

Adams County was the only Front Range county to ex­pe­ri­ence an in­crease in child­hood poverty, in­creas­ing 5.6 per­cent from 2010 to 2015.

But that’s only a small part of the pic­ture. The county saw an uptick in child­hood poverty in 2011 so although the num­ber of chil­dren liv­ing in poverty was higher in 2015 than in 2010, the to­tal was 19.6 per­cent lower than in 2011.

Weld County had the largest drop in child­hood poverty from 2010 to 2015 among the Front Range coun­ties, de­creas­ing 21.1 per­cent. But food bank di­rec­tor O’Con­nor said de­mand at his agency’s feed­ing pro­gram last year went up by 13 per­cent, the high­est in­crease since 2006.

He said the food bank is get­ting more re­quests than ever, in­clud­ing from school food pantries and back­pack pro­grams that pro­vide food for kids to take home.

“When we look at poverty num­bers, that’s not just the pop­u­la­tion we serve,” O’Con­nor said. “A sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of peo­ple we serve are liv­ing right above that poverty level.”

A fam­ily of four with in­come of less than $24,300 per year is con­sid­ered im­pov­er­ished un­der fed­eral Health and Hu­man Ser­vices guide­lines.

Those fam­i­lies don’t qual­ify for govern­ment as­sis­tance pro­grams, he said. If an ill­ness strikes, the car starts hav­ing prob­lems or any other un­fore­see­able event oc­curs, fam­i­lies don’t have enough money to cover it.

Food Bank of the Rock­ies spokes­woman Janie Gian­ot­sos said U.S. De­part­ment of Agri­cul­ture num­bers on food in­se­cu­rity show that the need is per­sis­tent.

From 2013 to 2015, 12.1 per­cent of Coloradans were food in­se­cure, 2 per­cent lower that from 2010 to 2012, but nearly the same as the pe­riod from 2003 to 2005, ac­cord­ing to a USDA study re­leased in Septem­ber.

“Even though a fam­ily may not be in poverty,” Gian­ot­sos said, “they may still have to make some tough choices dur­ing the month.”

“They re­ally fall through the cracks,” she said.

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