By Katie Kerwin McCrimmon
Child poverty rates and the percentage of children without health insurance continue to decline in Colorado, giving advocates hope that the economic recovery is finally beginning to reach the state’s lowest income families.
The percentage of children living in poverty has declined for the second year in a row and poverty rates for families with children finally reached pre-recession levels, according to new data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2014 American Community Survey.
The 2014 rate was 15.4 percent, down from 16.9 percent in 2013.
The decreases two years in a row mark the first time Colorado has seen continuously declining child poverty rates since the survey started in 2000.
“We’re pleased that things are heading in the right direction,” said Sarah Hughes, research director for the Colorado Children’s Campaign. “We are hoping this marks a turnaround.”
The recovery has not been even across the country or in Colorado. Colorado had the sixth-largest percentage decline in 2014 and was one of just 10 states to see a statistically significant drop in child poverty rates for 2014. Hughes said many rural areas of the state are still struggling with a less-than-stellar recovery. County level poverty data will come out later this year, but some parts of the state, like the San Luis Valley, have seen persistent, multi-generational poverty rates that can leave up to one-third of children living in impoverished families.
Even with the recent declines, about 190,000 children live in impoverished families, up from 104,000 in 2000. Poverty is defined as annual income below $23,850 for a family of four.
On the health insurance front, the new census data confirm newer information from the Colorado Health Access Survey, which came out earlier this month and is based on a 2015 Colorado survey conducted by the Colorado Health Institute.
The census numbers from 2014 show that just 5.6 percent of Colorado children lacked health insurance, down from 8.2 percent in 2013. The newer data from the 2015 Colorado Health Access Survey showed an even more dramatic decline in uninsured children, down to 2.5 percent.
Hughes said timing explains the difference in the survey results. Census officials gather data throughout 2014. Some of the early numbers would not have reflected full implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Colorado has seen some of the largest jumps in the country in its Medicaid enrollment and health experts have said that as adults got health coverage, so did their children.
“Kids in Colorado are among the biggest winners in health reform,” said Chris Watney, president and CEO of the Colorado Children’s Campaign. “Expanding Medicaid access for whole families and establishing our own, state-based Colorado (exchange)… are among the reasons that Colorado experienced the nation’s second-largest percentage point decline in the rate of kids without insurance.”
Hughes said health insurance for families allows children to get preventive care and immunizations. They also have a place to go if a child gets sick.
“We’re on the right track. We have more kids covered by health insurance in Colorado than ever before,” Hughes said.
Coverage does not guarantee a child will have a provider, but school based clinics and community health centers are helping provide access for newly covered children in some parts of the state.
Children from Latino families continue to struggle the most. While many more African American and Native American kids got health coverage, Hispanic kids still are most likely to be uninsured. The census data showed that 9.6 percent remained uninsured in 2014, down from 13.1 percent in 2013.
The 2015 Health Access Survey showed similar trends for Hispanics of all ages. Hispanics had the highest uninsured rates overall. About 11.8 percent of Hispanics remained uninsured in 2015, compared to 21.8 percent in 2013, according to the Colorado Health Access Survey.
Geographic and ethnic disparities remain a challenge for the state.
Said Hughes: “We still have work to do to make sure all kids can access high quality coverage.”