Jan 26, 2016

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Scorecard reveals challenges for Colorado families

by | Jan 26, 2016

Seven years since the official end of the Great Recession, many economists agree that America’s agonizingly slow financial recovery is finally complete. But even though the national unemployment rate has remained steady in recent months, it’s clear to many families that the widespread economic prosperity of the past is just that—a thing of the past.

Recently, CCLP’s partners, CFED (the Corporation for Enterprise Development) released the 2016 Assets & Opportunity Scorecard. The report evaluates 69 different policy measures to determine how well states are addressing the challenges facing their residents. In short, the scorecard illustrates that financial vulnerability is the norm in Colorado and nationwide. And for those who were just scraping by before the recession, the struggles have only deepened.

The situation is especially dire for households of color, which are more than twice as likely as white households to live below the federal poverty level and 1.7 times more likely to lack liquid savings.

Why are so many households living in such a financially precarious position? Findings from the Scorecard reveal some answers:

  • There is a significant affordable rental housing shortage nationally and in many states. As a result, more than half (51.8 percent) of renters are cost-burdened, which means they spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing. Colorado is consistent with the national norm with 52 percent of cost-burdened renters spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing.
  • Outsized spending on housing reduces funds for food, health care, child care and other basic needs. Typically, health care is the first to go; 14.3 percent of adults say they didn’t see a doctor over the last year because of cost. The statistics are worse for adults of color; one in four Latino adults and one in five African-American adults said financial concerns prevented them from seeing a doctor.
  • The scorecard shows that 39 percent of Colorado’s households are locked into a “new normal” of perpetual financial insecurity, unable to build the savings needed to last even three months in the event of an emergency.
  • Colorado’s 9th-place outcome ranking improved from last year’s 13th-place ranking. The state received an “A” in Education, driven in part by having the third-highest rate of degree attainment from two- and four-year colleges (46.6 percent and 38.3 percent, respectively). Colorado’s low underemployment rate (8.4 percent) relative to the national average (10.8 percent) helped the state also earn an “A” in Businesses & Jobs. The state’s worst grade was a “C” in Health Care, due partially to its high rate of uninsured low-income children (8.1 percent), and disparities in insurance by race and gender. Coloradans of color are 2.3 times more likely to be uninsured than white Coloradans, and women in the state are 1.3 times more likely to be uninsured than their male counterparts. The state received a “B” in both Financial Assets & Income and Housing & Homeownership.
  • Nationwide, households just aren’t bringing in enough income to cover basic expenses. One in four jobs in the US today is in a low-wage occupation, and the underemployment rate—the number of unemployed, plus those who have part-time work but seek full-time employment, along with those who have given up because they are discouraged by the job market—is still double that of the unemployment rate, at 10.8 percent.

As grim as these numbers are, there are numerous tested solutions that can be leveraged to help build an opportunity economy in which everyone has the chance to succeed. Take the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC)—the most effective anti-poverty program in the country. The EITC increases the incomes of hard-working families struggling to cover basic expenses and enables families to start saving for a more secure financial future—and policymakers on both sides of the aisle agree that it works. It is time to expand policies—at the federal, state and local levels—that work to increase financial security and reduce inequality. In Colorado, CCLP was part of a coalition, led by the Colorado Fiscal Institute, which successfully advocated for activating the EITC statewide in 2015.

To learn more about policies that help to build an opportunity economy, and for a full analysis state- and national-level outcome and policy data across 130 different measures, visit http://scorecard.cfed.org.

For a rundown of statewide results, visit the Colorado state profile on CCLP’s website. CCLP partners with CFED as the state leader of its Assets & Opportunity Network.


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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.