Health Rankings: Today’s Child Poverty Rates, Tomorrow’s Statewide Health?

Third in a series of blogs by the Colorado Health Institute reporting on the 2018 County Health Rankings. Read parts one and two.

Child poverty in Colorado is declining, but parts of the state continue to struggle.

One of eight Colorado children under the age of 18 (13 percent) lived in poverty in 2016, down five percentage points from 18 percent in 2012, according to the 2018 County Health Rankings report, released by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation this month. (The child poverty statistics in the 2018 County Health Rankings are based on data from 2016.)

But 43 of Colorado’s 64 counties have child poverty rates higher than the state average of 13 percent. And in five counties in southeast or south-central Colorado, at least one of every three children is below the poverty level of $24,339 for a family of four.

The variation in child poverty rates among counties ranges from 2.9 percent in Douglas County, the state’s lowest rate, to 43.4 percent in Costilla County, the state’s highest rate.

Five Lowest Child Poverty Rates in Colorado:

  1. Douglas: 2.9 percent
  2. Broomfield: 5.3 percent
  3. Pitkin: 7.2 percent
  4. Jefferson: 7.7 percent
  5. Routt: 8.3 percent

Five Highest Child Poverty Rates in Colorado:

  1. Costilla: 43.4 percent
  2. Crowley: 39.7 percent 
  3. Saguache: 38.7 percent
  4. Huerfano: 37.2 percent
  5. Bent: 36.2 percent
Percent Map
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Hand-in-Hand: Child Poverty and Health Equity

Rates of child poverty in Colorado also vary by race and ethnicity. Poverty rates for black and Hispanic children are about three times higher than for white children. Four of 10 black children (25 percent) and nearly four of 10 Hispanic children (23 percent) live in poverty compared with eight percent of white children.

Rio Blanco County has the largest divide between Hispanic and white children. About six of 10 (59 percent) Hispanic children are in poverty, 48 percentage points higher than the 11 percent of white children in poverty. Double-digit percentage differences are found in 34 of 64 Colorado counties.

These rates are important from a health equity lens, particularly as Colorado’s population becomes increasingly diverse. Children who grow up in poverty have higher risks of:

  • Adverse health outcomes, including low birthweights, chronic illnesses such as asthma and diabetes, injuries from accidents and physical abuse, and mental health conditions such as Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and anxiety.
  • Long-lasting negative economic impacts. For example, children who grow up poor are less likely to graduate from high school and college and have consistent employment.
  • Lower levels of social factors known to influence health, such as socioeconomic status, education, the physical environment, and social support networks. For example, Las Animas County has a child poverty rate of 28 percent, more than twice the state average. It is also has the highest county-level of violent crime in Colorado, 617 offenses per 100,000 population. Two counties with above-average child poverty rates — Bent and Denver — have among the state’s lowest graduation rates.

However, many factors influence child poverty, so even counties with low child poverty rates can struggle with social determinants of health.

Reducing Child Poverty, Improving Child Health

Evidence-based strategies to support children’s health by addressing economic inequities include:

  • High quality early childhood education. Children from low-income families achieve better health in the critical early phases of physical and cognitive development if they receive excellent early education.
  • Tax policies. Federal policies such as the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Child Tax Credit (CTC) provide income support to low-income families and contribute to the overall decline in the child poverty rate while resulting in health benefits such as decreased rates of low birthweight.
  • strong>Nutrition supports.  Free and reduced-price lunch programs in schools as well as the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) leads to healthier children who are better prepared to succeed in school.
  • Health insurance. Coverage for both parents and children can encourage preventive care, reduce the financial burden of high medical bills and lower potential debt.Colorado’s uninsured rate dropped to 6.5 percent in 2017 from 14.3 percent in 2013, according  to the Colorado Health Access Survey. Just 3.0 percent of children aged 18 and under are uninsured. For adults between ages 19 and 64, 9.1 percent are uninsured.

Find Liana Major on Twitter: @CHI_LianaM

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