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February 19, 2014

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Income inequality surges in Colorado, according to new report

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The gap between the wealthiest Coloradans and everyone else turned into a chasm following the Great Recession, according to a report released today. In that time, Colorado’s top 1 percent accounted for all of the state’s growth in income, while the other 99 percent saw a decline in income.
The report, The Increasingly Unequal States of America, is published by the Economic Policy Institute. EPI’s Colorado partners include The Bell Policy Center, the Colorado Center on Law and Policy and the Colorado Fiscal Institute.
The report found that in Colorado, between 2009 and 2011:

  • The wealthiest 1 percent accounted for all of the income growth – one of 17 states where that happened.
  • The top 1 percent saw income growth of 23.5 percent, while the other 99 percent of Coloradans saw income decline by 4 percent.
  • The average income for the top 1 percent in Colorado in 2011 was $1,098,682, while the average for the bottom 99 percent was $46,837.

“This has to be our priority in Colorado,” said Wade Buchanan, president of the Bell Policy Center. “It starts with opening doors to opportunity for Coloradans, because opportunity motivates effort, unleashes talent, feeds a dynamic economy and stimulates creativity and invention.”
Claire Levy, executive director of the Colorado Center on Law and Policy, said the growing disparity in income is a troubling trend that did not happen randomly.
“That disparity reflects policy choices in recent years that have prevented us from experiencing shared prosperity,” Levy said. “We should be adopt policies that create an economy that allows everyone to flourish.”
Carol Hedges, executive director of the Colorado Fiscal Institute, said the data shows Colorado needs to adopt policies that promote widespread prosperity, such as significant new investments in K-12 and higher education.
“When Coloradans in every corner of the state can get a quality education, they can compete for high-quality jobs and command the earning power necessary to propel the economy,” Hedges said.
In assessing a longer-term period of inequality, the report found that from 1979 to 2007, Colorado generally tracked national averages (all data is adjusted for inflation):

  • The top 1 percent income recipients in Colorado saw their income rise by 200.8 percent for the period. (For the U.S average, the comparable number is 200.5 percent.)
  • The bottom 99 percent saw their income rise by 21.2 percent. (U.S. average: 18.9 percent.)
  • The 1 percent in Colorado took home 48.3 percent of all income growth in the state in that period. (U.S.: 53.9 percent.)
  • Colorado ranks 15th for income growth for the top 1 percent. Connecticut led the way with 414.6 percent, while West Virginia was last, at 74.1 percent.
  • Among neighboring states, Colorado ranked behind only Wyoming and Utah in income growth for the 1 percent. Wyoming’s 1 percenters saw their income rise by 354.3 percent (versus a loss of 0.8 percent for the 99 percenters). Utah’s numbers were 214.9 percent and 15.4 percent.
  • In 1928, the previous high-water mark for inequality, Colorado’s 1 percenters took home 19.3 percent of state income. In 1979, it was 9 percent, and in 2007, it was 19.7 percent.
  • From 1928 to 1979, the 1 percent’s share of all state income declined by 10.3 percent. From 1979 to 2007, the 1 percenters’ share of state income increased by 10.7 percent.

The authors of The Increasingly Unequal States of America compiled data from the Internal Revenue Service for every state – the amount of income and the number of taxpayers in different income ranges – from 1928 to 2011. In tracking the recent prolonged period of inequality, the authors started with 1979 because that was the peak of a business cycle and because that year is seen as a starting point for rising income inequality. It ends with 2007 because it was the peak of the most recent business cycle.
Link to report:
Joe Watt, The Bell Policy Center, (303) 297-0456 ext. 217
Terry Scanlon, Colorado Center on Law and Policy, (303) 957-8137
Tim Hoover, Colorado Fiscal Institute, (720) 379-3019 ext. 226


Date added

February 19, 2014

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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.