A wide gap in income equality in Colorado, which allows some to be extremely well-off while others struggle, indicates underlying structural problems with significant negative consequences for many families.
The poorest 40 percent of Colorado receives only about 14 percent of the state’s income, while the richest 10 percent receives about 32 percent. Significantly unequal incomes are found not only between people, but also between counties, according to a study by Jerry Eckert, Colorado State University professor of Agricultural Economics, and Elizabeth Garner, Colorado State University Cooperative Extension information services specialist.
Identifying the counties that are most economically challenged provides some hope for the future of these counties by allowing economic development policies and programs to be better constructed in aiding these areas and bring about greater equality.
Structural problems lead to limited economic growth and mean that a part of society is marginalized and unable to fully participate in Colorado’s lifestyle. Colorado’s poor have unequal access to land and productive capital, while also possibly facing discriminatory practices and barriers to social mobility. More importantly, Colorado’s poor tend to have much lower education levels than the rest of the state.
Eckert and Garner tested four criteria often associated with economic disadvantage for each county. The middle, or median, income, the percent of families living in poverty, the percent of people with a post high school degree and the percent of the county that is a minority were also. Through these figures, Eckert and Garner were able to identify and rank the most economically challenged counties.
The counties identified as having the most inequality among their residents are a varied group, ranging from counties like Boulder and Denver county to rural counties like Crowley and Hispanic counties like Conejos.
"The challenged counties comprise the southern tier of the state plus a significant portion of the less well-watered eastern plains," said Garner. "Meanwhile Denver County constitutes an island of economic challenge in a sea of advantage."
Denver County’s neighbors, like Arapahoe, Jefferson and Douglas counties are among the economically advantaged with a robust population of middle class, a low incidence of poverty and greater levels of education. The study found that Colorado’s economically advantaged are located in the Front Range and along the I-70 corridor.
According to Eckert and Garner, Colorado’s most economically challenged counties are San Miguel, Pitkin, Hinsdale, Crowley, and Denver. While it’s most economically advantaged counties are Moffat, Gilpin, Douglas, Park, and Elbert.