Dec 29, 2020

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NEWS RELEASE: Report reveals disparities before and after COVID-19

by | Dec 29, 2020

DENVER— Economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic have made the disparities along racial and geographic lines even more apparent, according to a new report released by Colorado Center on Law and Policy today.

Published by CCLP, the 2020 State of Working Colorado is a compendium of data designed to look beyond traditional state-level economic indicators of prosperity and provide a critical, in-depth perspective of how working families are faring in our state, including statistics and analysis on income and employment. Among the findings:

* Economic data gathered after the COVID-19 pandemic shows that job losses were greatest among Coloradans with low wages – particularly in the hospitality and leisure sectors. The report concludes that jobs lost in some industries may not come back for a long time — if at all — and that the recovery seen in mid-2020 appears to be losing steam. Meanwhile, unemployment insurance (particularly expanded weekly benefits) has been a “life-saver” for many Coloradans and the state’s economy.

* Wage growth for most Coloradans has remained meager over the past two decades. While wages for most Coloradans stagnated, the growth in wages among the top 10 percent of earners has increased, leading to a widening gap between the top and bottom 10 percent of workers in the state. Increasing wage inequality makes it increasingly difficult for those in the bottom 90 percent to keep up with rising cost of food, housing and health care. With the dramatic loss of jobs experienced in March and April of this year, an even greater number of Coloradans are relying on even less income to make ends meet.

* There are significant disparities across race/ethnicity, gender and disability status.
White Coloradans experienced poverty at a lower rate than the overall state rate of 9.6 percent in 2018, while people of color experienced poverty at much higher rates. In 2018, Black Coloradans and American Indians/Alaska Natives experienced poverty at twice the rate of the overall population at 18 and 18.7 percent, respectively. As with wages, a household’s income can vary tremendously depending on the race or ethnicity of the householder. While the median income for white and Asian households were both higher than the state median in 2018, the median incomes for multiracial, Latinx, Black and American Indian/Alaska Native households were significantly less than the state median.

* Almost all of Colorado’s labor force is found in urban counties while many counties have seen their labor force shrink. The share of the state’s labor force living in an urban county increased from 86.7 percent in 2010 to 88.2 percent, while the share living in rural areas decreased from 13.3 percent to 11.8 percent over the same period. The labor force in Hinsdale County grew by the fastest rate in the state, increasing by an annual rate of 6.5 percent. On the other hand, the labor force of San Juan County decreased by an annual rate of 7.3 percent between 2010 and 2018.

“Our economy relies on low-wage workers, and yet, we must be willing to make the structural changes needed to ensure that low-wage workers can make ends meet,” said Tiffani Lennon, J.D., LL.M., Executive Director of CCLP. “Our economy is not working for most Coloradans. Though we don’t know when this public health emergency will end and when our national and state economies will begin to recover, these findings demonstrate why we should not settle for simply a return to a ‘normal’ economy. CCLP envisions a Colorado where everyone can afford food, housing and health care. Achieving that vision requires a serious reckoning with the data highlighted in the 2020 State of Working Colorado.”

CCLP produces the State of Working Colorado every year to help stakeholders and policymakers determine where to focus their efforts in revitalizing opportunities and prosperity for hard-working Coloradans in diverse communities across the state. The full report is available at CCLP’s website.

Colorado Center on Law and Policy is a nonprofit research, legislative and legal advocacy organization committed to joining diverse communities to advance racial equity and remove systemic barriers in the fight against poverty.

Recent articles

CCLP’s 2024 legislative wrap-up, part 2

CCLP's 2024 legislative wrap-up focused on expanding access to justice, removing administrative burden, supporting progressive tax and wage policies, preserving affordable communities, and reducing health care costs. Part 2/2.

CCLP’s 2024 legislative wrap-up, part 1

CCLP's 2024 legislative wrap-up focused on expanding access to justice, removing administrative burden, supporting progressive tax and wage policies, preserving affordable communities, and reducing health care costs.


To maintain health and well-being, people of all ages need access to quality health care that improves outcomes and reduces costs for the community. Health First Colorado, the state's Medicaid program, is public health insurance for low-income Coloradans who qualify. The program is funded jointly by a federal-state partnership and is administered by the Colorado Department of Health Care Policy & Financing.

Benefits of the program include behavioral health, dental services, emergency care, family planning services, hospitalization, laboratory services, maternity care, newborn care, outpatient care, prescription drugs, preventive and wellness services, primary care and rehabilitative services.

In tandem with the Affordable Care Act, Colorado expanded Medicaid eligibility in 2013 - providing hundreds of thousands of adults with incomes less than 133% FPL with health insurance for the first time increasing the health and economic well-being of these Coloradans. Most of the money for newly eligible Medicaid clients has been covered by the federal government, which will gradually decrease its contribution to 90% by 2020.

Other populations eligible for Medicaid include children, who qualify with income up to 142% FPL, pregnant women with household income under 195% FPL, and adults with dependent children with household income under 68% FPL.

Some analyses indicate that Colorado's investment in Medicaid will pay off in the long run by reducing spending on programs for the uninsured.


Hunger, though often invisible, affects everyone. It impacts people's physical, mental and emotional health and can be a culprit of obesity, depression, acute and chronic illnesses and other preventable medical conditions. Hunger also hinders education and productivity, not only stunting a child's overall well-being and academic achievement, but consuming an adult's ability to be a focused, industrious member of society. Even those who have never worried about having enough food experience the ripple effects of hunger, which seeps into our communities and erodes our state's economy.

Community resources like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as Food Stamps, exist to ensure that families and individuals can purchase groceries, with the average benefit being about $1.40 per meal, per person.

Funding for SNAP comes from the USDA, but the administrative costs are split between local, state, and federal governments. Yet, the lack of investment in a strong, effective SNAP program impedes Colorado's progress in becoming the healthiest state in the nation and providing a better, brighter future for all. Indeed, Colorado ranks 44th in the nation for access to SNAP and lost out on more than $261 million in grocery sales due to a large access gap in SNAP enrollment.

See the Food Assistance (SNAP) Benefit Calculator to get an estimate of your eligibility for food benefits.


Every child deserves the nutritional resources needed to get a healthy start on life both inside and outside the mother's womb. In particular, good nutrition and health care is critical for establishing a strong foundation that could affect a child's future physical and mental health, academic achievement and economic productivity. Likewise, the inability to access good nutrition and health care endangers the very integrity of that foundation.

The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) provides federal grants to states for supplemental foods, health care referrals, and nutrition information for low-income pregnant, breastfeeding and non-breastfeeding postpartum women and to infants and children up to age five who are found to be at nutritional risk.

Research has shown that WIC has played an important role in improving birth outcomes and containing health care costs, resulting in longer pregnancies, fewer infant deaths, a greater likelihood of receiving prenatal care, improved infant-feeding practices, and immunization rates

Financial Security:
Colorado Works

In building a foundation for self-sufficiency, some Colorado families need some extra tools to ensure they can weather challenging financial circumstances and obtain basic resources to help them and their communities reach their potential.

Colorado Works is Colorado's Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program and provides public assistance to families in need. The Colorado Works program is designed to assist participants in becoming self-sufficient by strengthening the economic and social stability of families. The program provides monthly cash assistance and support services to eligible Colorado families.

The program is primarily funded by a federal block grant to the state. Counties also contribute about 20% of the cost.


Child care is a must for working families. Along with ensuring that parents can work or obtain job skills training to improve their families' economic security, studies show that quality child care improves children's academic performance, career development and health outcomes.

Yet despite these proven benefits, low-income families often struggle with the cost of child care. Colorado ranks among the top 10 most expensive states in the country for center-based child care. For families with an infant, full-time enrollment at a child care center cost an average of $15,140 a year-or about three-quarters of the total income of a family of three living at the Federal Poverty Level (FPL).

The Colorado Child Care Assistance Program (CCCAP) provides child care assistance to parents who are working, searching for employment or participating in training, and parents who are enrolled in the Colorado Works Program and need child care services to support their efforts toward self-sufficiency. Most of the money for CCCAP comes from the federal Child Care and Development Fund. Each county can set their own income eligibility limit as long as it is at or above 165% of the federal poverty level and does not exceed 85% of area median income.

Unfortunately, while the need is growing, only an estimated one-quarter of all eligible children in the state are served by CCCAP. Low reimbursement rates have also resulted in fewer providers willing to accept CCCAP subsidies.