For Colorado’s kids, effects of economic downturn far-reaching |

For Colorado’s kids, effects of economic downturn far-reaching

Kathryn Corazzelli
summit daily news
Special to the Daily/Christine Rafanelli

The recession’s impacts go beyond adults who lose work and find it difficult to purchase necessities: it hits their children. Wednesday morning, representatives for The Colorado Children’s Campaign – a research and advocacy group that works to increase access to health coverage and wellness for kids – dropped by the Summit County Community and Senior Center to discuss the impact of the recession on Colorado’s and Summit County’s children.

In Summit County alone, the number of children living in poverty has grown 75 percent since 2000, and the number eligible for free or reduced price lunch shot up 183 percent. The data for Summit does not show how poverty is distributed within the county. But, those numbers are still lower than Denver’s. Piscopo talked about the “suburbanization of poverty.” Around the Denver area, as true for the rest of the country’s cities, poverty is growing faster than in other parts of the state.

From 2008 to 2009, the number of children living in poverty in Colorado rose by 31,000 – the seventh fastest growth rate in the nation that year. Children who fall into poverty – which is defined as a family of four living on about $22,000 or less – are more likely to feel the impacts of the recession past the downturn, Lisa Piscopo, the group’s vice president of research said. She presented data from the campaign’s 2011 Kids Count in Colorado!, an annual report providing state- and county-level data tracking education, health and the general well-being of Colorado’s children.

From 2008 to 2009 (data for 2010 is not yet available), 47,000 more children in Colorado were living in families where no parent had regular, full time employment. The Colorado unemployment rate has more than doubled since the recession began, Piscopo said. More children were likely to commit suicide or be victims of abuse or neglect, according to the report, and more children are likely to live in poverty as adults.

And, the effects of poverty extend beyond homelessness, hunger and food insecurity: it affects education. According to Piscopo’s data, children eligible for free or reduced price lunch do not perform as well in math and reading as those not qualified for the service. Overall, students in Summit County were slightly more proficient when compared to all students in Colorado, but there is still a gap. Those eligible were 46 percent proficient in reading and 43 percent proficient in math, while students not qualified were 84 percent proficient in reading and 73 percent proficient in math.

In reading ability, it’s important for children to be proficient by the third grade, because in the fourth grade, “kids reach a point where they stop learning to read and start reading to learn,” Piscopo said.

House District 56 Rep. Millie Hamner, who was in attendance Wednesday morning, told the crowd she’s looking for her legislative agenda for the 2012 session. Having been a teacher and superintendent herself, she’s aware of education and early childhood issues. All children deserve a high quality education regardless of income level, she said.

“It’s through education that we break the cycle of poverty,” Hamner said.

One of the issues she suspects might come up next year is whether or not children who aren’t reading in third grade should be promoted to fourth.

“My feeling is if we truly want every third-grader reading, we need to provide a lot of resources before third grade,” she said.

The bright spot in the report was related to child health: All data indicates trends are improving. In 2009, the state saw a decline in the number and rate of uninsured children, even as their parents’ unemployment rose.

“Some of the data may be depressing, but what gets measured gets changed,” Piscopo said. “One of the things we hope is to create a community cohesion in the area around you and improve things for kids.”

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