Poverty rate for Montezuma County children increases

Thursday, Sept. 14, 2017 1:43 PM
Health and education professionals listen as Sarah Hughes gives a presentation on child poverty during a seminar Monday at First National Bank in Cortez.

Montezuma County’s poverty rate for children under age 18 climbed to 29 percent in 2015, though the poverty rate for the rest of Colorado fell, according to the 2017 Kids Count study.

The latest statistics on child poverty in Montezuma and Dolores counties were presented to about 45 residents, educators and health professionals during a seminar Monday held by the Colorado Children’s Campaign.

The federal poverty level in 2015 was $15,930 for a family of two, $20,090 for a family of three and $24,250 for a family of four. The poverty level is an income level judged inadequate to provide a family or individual with the essentials of life. It is adjusted regularly to reflect changes in the Consumer Price Index.

Statewide, the poverty rate was 15 percent in 2015, unchanged from 15 percent in 2007, at the start of the Great Recession.

In Montezuma County, the poverty rate climbed to 29 percent in 2015, up from 23 percent in 2007. In Dolores County, it was 22 percent, up from 15 percent in 2007.

“The good news is that the number of uninsured children has fallen once the Affordable Care Act kicked in,” according to Sarah Hughes, Colorado Children’s Campaign research director, who presented the data on Monday. “Colorado has made tremendous progress reducing the number of kids without health coverage.”

In Montezuma County, the number of uninsured children dropped from 14 percent in 2013 to 8 percent in 2015. In Dolores County, it dropped from 18 percent in 2013 to 9 percent in 2015.

But overall, Monday’s message was clear: Montezuma County struggles with poverty.

One indicator of local poverty is the number of children who receive free or reduced lunches in school cafeterias. In Montezuma County, 60 percent of children receive free or reduced lunches.

Another indicator is the 2016 Colorado Child Well-Being Index. Out of Colorado’s 25 most populated counties evaluated for 11 health factors, Montezuma County was ranked last. Denver County was ranked 24th.

The factors considered for the index included teen birth rates, low birth weights, overweight children, uninsured children in poverty, births to women without a high school diploma or GED, the high school dropout rate, and fourth-graders who weren’t proficient in reading.

Child well-being in Montezuma County also varies based on race and ethnicity, according to the Kids Count study.

For example, from 2011 to 2015, the poverty rate for Native American children was 51 percent, compared with 27 percent for whites.

Also, the rate of uninsured Native American children was 22 percent, compared with 14 percent for whites.

“A child’s race or ethnicity tends to predict a lot of their opportunities and life outcomes because of a long history of policies that have not always provided as much opportunity,” Hughes said.

Meeting participants pointed out that local school-based health clinics have improved children’s access to health care. Both Montezuma-Cortez High School and Southwest Open Charter School have health clinics, and the Dolores Re-4A School District plans to build one.

The local nonprofit Piñon Project’s campaign to enroll families in social service programs has also helped to ease local impacts of poverty, a staff member claimed.

Other study highlights for Montezuma County:

Montezuma County has 6,029 children under age 18 in 2015. The state has 1.2 million.Montezuma County recorded 310 births – 32 of them were to teenage mothers – in 2015. Of the total births, 16 percent of Montezuma County mothers smoked during pregnancy, compared with 6.4 percent throughout Colorado.Montezuma County’s high school graduation rate of 78 percent in 2015 was the same as the state’s average.In Montezuma County, 98.6 percent of kindergartners were in a full-day program in 2016, compared with the state average of 77 percent.The Colorado Children’s Campaign is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy organization that has been in operation since 1985. It produces the Kids Count studies.