DENVER — The Great Recession has shown no mercy to Colorado children, and Montezuma County youngsters are at even greater risk than the average child in the state.
Compared to the rest of the state, Montezuma County babies are more likely to be born to teen mothers and women who lack a high school education, smoke during pregnancy and don't get early prenatal care.
More than one in four Montezuma County kids live in poverty, much higher than the statewide average. And when they go to school, their test scores and graduation rates are lower than the state norm.
The numbers come from the annual Kids Count report by the Colorado Children's Campaign, which was released Thursday.
The report compiles a variety of data — mostly from 2009 — to paint a bleak portrait of the youngest generation of Coloradans. Children's Campaign President Chris Watney hailed it as one of the first in-depth looks at toll the Great Recession has taken on Colorado kids.
“While economists proclaimed the end of the Great Recession more than a year ago, the end was nowhere in sight for many Colorado families, and especially our children,” Watney said.
An additional 30,000 Colorado children fell into extreme poverty between 2008 and 2009, defined as an $11,000 income for a family of four, Watney said. While Colorado's child poverty rate is still below the national average, it doubled in the past decade, the fastest rise of any state.
An estimated 18,000 public school students don't have a permanent home. In Montezuma County public schools, 21 students were homeless, according to the report.
At the same time, the state saw a dramatic rise in childhood obesity, from 22 percent in 2003 to 27 percent in 2007. Colorado started the decade ranked second in the country for kids with healthy weights. It has slipped to 10th.
“To go from second best to 10th best in such a short window is something that no Coloradan should accept,” said Gov. John Hickenlooper.
Poverty can be a cause of obesity because poor kids often lack affordable healthy food and safe places to play outside.
One ironic effect of the recession is that more Colorado children got health insurance.
As estimated 42,000 kids gained insurance last year, either because their family incomes fell and they qualified for government programs, or because of expansions of federal and state government insurance. The Legislature in 2009 passed a fee on hospitals that is used to add children to state insurance programs.
But rural areas have missed out on the rise in insured kids.
Children in the urban corridor around Interstate 25 had the highest rates of insurance. In the five counties of Southwest Colorado, 16.2 percent of children have no health insurance, compared to the statewide average of just one in 10.
Watney credited a dramatic rise in urban and suburban poverty and the response of metro-area counties with the increase in insurance rolls on the Front Range.
The report held bad news about local students.
Less than two out of three Montezuma County students graduate high school, compared to the statewide rate of nearly three in four. Test scores for the county's third- and eighth-graders lagged the state average in reading, writing and math.
Big gaps exist across the state on all measures of educational success between middle class and poor students and between white or Asian students and other races.
Too many high school graduates need remedial education when they enter college, said Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia. Educators can now track those students back to elementary school and predict that students who have fallen behind in third grade will still be behind by the time they reach college, he said.
“We need to make sure that our kids, by the time they leave third grade, can read,” Garcia said. “It seems like such a simple thing, but it's something that we all need to work together on.”
However, Hickenlooper and Garcia are overseeing a state government with problems of its own, and Hickenlooper has proposed $500 per student cuts to the budget for public schools.
Reach Joe Hanel at firstname.lastname@example.org.