Colorado has the fastest-growing child-poverty rate in the nation - a distinction attributed to a burgeoning number of poor in Denver's suburbs and a widening gap between Latino and non-Latino income.
While the state ranked 22nd nationally, Colorado's child-poverty rate has climbed 72 percent since 2000, according to KIDS COUNT in Colorado, an annual report by the Colorado Children's Campaign.
Much of that increase is among the state's growing Latino population, according to the data.
The state's non-Latinos are actually higher income than the national average, but Latinos in Colorado are among the poorest in the nation.
In other words, Colorado's large income gap between Latinos and non-Latinos is creating what advocates say is a "tale of two Colorados."
"This is an alarm; this is a wake-up call," said Federico Pena, Denver's former mayor and a Denver Public Schools adviser. "The Latino population is growing in numbers, they are the largest minority group, and they continue to not receive a quality education and they continue to not be as fully productive as they can be."
Chris Watney, president of the Colorado Children's Campaign, agreed.
"When you look at educational achievement and educational attainment, there is a big gap there between children who are doing well and those who aren't," she said. "If we aren't educating kids as well as we could, there isn't really a chance for them to lift themselves and their families out of poverty."
Researchers found the highest poverty rates remained in Denver County and the San Luis Valley, but where the count grew the most was in Denver's suburbs. The number of kids in poverty has increased in the counties surrounding Denver by more than 35,000 since 2000.
Evidence of that is widespread.
The number of uninsured people calling for doctor appointments at the Metro Community Provider Network - a string of suburban health clinics - has jumped from about 3,000 a month to 6,000 in the past year. In Aurora Public Schools, the number of kids who qualify for free and reduced-price lunches has swelled from 36 percent in 2000 to 63 percent this school year.
In Jefferson County Public Schools, the number of homeless kids enrolled has grown from 59 in 2001 to 2,400 this school year.
"It's just a huge challenge because people are surprised," said Kathy Hartman, a Jefferson County commissioner, who is pushing for the first Boys and Girls Club in Jefferson County. Denver has five locations.
"Resources are not keeping up with the numbers. We need to acknowledge it," she said.
On Monday morning, the waiting room at the Jeffco Action Center was packed with people needing emergency help - food boxes, rent assistance, clothing.
Most people, such as Sydni Hudspeth, needed all of the above.
Hudspeth was picking up food boxes and needed rent assistance. Her husband has a job painting motorcycles, but his hours have been cut. She can't afford child care, so she stays home with her 2-year-old daughter.
They originally moved to Jefferson County because rent is cheaper there than in Denver. But even that is unaffordable - at least right now. The family hasn't made rent this month and is probably moving to an RV park.
"It's a lot smaller than where we live now - a bedroom, a bathroom, a toilet and a sink," Hudspeth said. "But it's all we can afford now."
Allison Sherry: 303-954-1377 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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