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Date added

May 15, 2008

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State of Working Colorado 2008

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As Colorado heads into a new year, there are troubling economic signs everywhere. Unemployment and poverty is up. Wages are stagnant. Fewer people are able to get health insurance. And the gap between the wealthy and low- and middle-income earners is growing rapidly. All of these indicators are coupled by rising consumer prices, a national mortgage and housing crisis, the meltdown of investment markets, and the widespread credit crunch. It all means very serious challenges for working Coloradans. What started as a trickle of snow years ago will turn into an outright economic avalanche for Colorado if policymakers and state leaders don’t take the right steps.
The State of Working Colorado 2008 examines how well Colorado workers fared over the last business cycle. It compares trends in wages, employment and unemployment, poverty and health insurance from the economic peak of 2000 through the 2001 recession to the peak of the recovery in 2007. In most areas, the news is not good for working families.
While Colorado slowly regained the jobs lost during the 2001 recession and workers went back to work, rates of unemployment and underemployment never reached prerecession levels. Moreover, many workers went back to work for fewer hours than they needed to get by. By 2007, a higher percent of Colorado families worked part-time for economic reasons than in 2000.
More troubling than the data on employment and unemployment is the picture of stagnating wages and growing wage inequality that has emerged over the last several years. Median household income and median family income in Colorado failed to reach pre-recession levels by the close of 2007. At the same time, wage inequality grew from 2000 to 2007. The lower-income workers most vulnerable to an economic downturn, those in the 10th and 20th percentiles, actually earned less in real dollars in 2007 than they did in 2000. Those earning the median wage saw their wages stagnate. Only the highest income earners, those in the 80th and 90th percentiles, saw real gains in wages from 2000-2007. The growing disparity between those at the top and everyone else was coupled with continuing disparities by race, gender and education level. These trends show an uneven recovery from the last recession in Colorado with some workers benefiting more than others, meaning that many Colorado workers are quite vulnerable as we head into another economic downturn.
Colorado’s poverty rates offer another glimpse of how families will fare in a new recession. By 2007, a larger share of Coloradans were officially considered poor than in 2000. And, unlike the rest of the nation, the number of Colorado kids living in poverty climbed. In 2007, the rate of poor children in the state has almost doubled from 2000—the fastest growing rate of child poverty in the country.
Along with stagnating wages and fewer hours, many Colorado workers also lost health insurance coverage. The percentage of people without health insurance of any kind in Colorado was higher in 2007 than 2000, and above the national average every year of the business cycle. Colorado did see a decrease in the number of children without health insurance coverage from 2000-2007, but still had one of the highest rates in the country of uninsured poor children. Only Florida and Texas do worse than Colorado in terms of covering kids below 200% of the federal poverty level.
By many measures, 2007 marks the final year of Colorado’s recent economic recovery period and therefore may be the high point for Colorado workers. The United States entered a recession in December 2007, and there are many indications that Colorado will follow. In October 2008, the state’s unemployment rate increased to 5.7%, the highest point since March 2004, and well above the 3.9% rate from the previous October. Employment growth ground to a halt and wage and salary employment saw the largest declines since October 2001. The job loss was not concentrated in a single area, but seen through seven of the state’s major industry sectors. In addition, 2008 ushered in a year of increased costs for basic needs like food and gas and growing unease in the midst of national economic turmoil.
The soft economic recovery that culminated in 2007 might be as it good as it gets for working Coloradans, but it still left low- and middle-income families worse off than they were before the previous recession. Not only did Colorado not see positive movement over the last business cycle on long term challenges like wage inequality, wage growth, poverty and hardship, but now that the national economy is facing a large-scale crisis, these challenges for Colorado workers are likely to be exacerbated by the broader economic problems.
This means that Colorado will need to aggressively enact policies that can support workers through a crisis and help build toward long-term growth and stability. The state of working Colorado is in peril, but smart policymaking and strong leadership can help weather this economic storm and lead the state toward shared prosperity and greater economic security.


Date added

May 15, 2008

Resource type

Filed under


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.