Rural Colorado Struggling With Food and Health Care Costs, Study Shows

For the first time in four years, charities are able to gauge what it takes to make it in Colorado, and the outlook isn’t positive for rural counties in the state. The Colorado Fiscal Policy Institute, an economic think tank that works with nonprofits across the state to assist low-income individuals and families, released a 78-page report on Wednesday detailing what is needed to be self-sufficient in Colorado, without private and public support.

Increases in health care and food costs are adversely affecting families living in rural areas, according to the study, which was completed by the University of Washington.

The report (PDF), titled “The Self-Sufficiency Standard for Colorado 2008: A Family Needs Budget,” showed that food prices for rural counties have risen by 45 percent since 2004, when a similar self-sufficiency study was conducted.

Numbers show that Las Animas, a rural southeastern county, has seen an 87 percent increase in health care costs, and that doesn’t count those who were uninsured. The Institute also reported that approximately 33 percent of the county’s population lived below self-sufficiency, meaning that families did not make enough to support basic needs like child care, food, housing and transportation costs.

According to the report, an adult and one preschooler in rural counties like San Miguel, Hinsdale, Routt and Eagle would have to make between $39,600 to around $52,500 annually in order to be self sufficient. Two more urbanized counties like Boulder and Douglas ranked in the same level.

In contrast, the cost of living in Denver for a parent and a preschooler is approximately $28,000 to $34,000, and the same goes for Jefferson, Adams, and Arapahoe counties.

“I wish I could say that it’s getting better for families in Colorado, but it’s not,” said Maureen Farrell, executive director of the Institute, noting that the number of counties with the highest self-sufficiency costs – including Pitkin, Eagle, Routt and Hinsdale – have doubled since 2004.

The self-sufficiency standards used in the report have also been used to measure the cost of living in the states neighboring Colorado. The standard is seen as a better way to measure poverty than the Federal Poverty Level, which bases needs strictly on a family’s food budget.

Erin Rosa was born in Spain and raised in Colorado Springs. She is a freelance writer currently living in Denver. Rosa's work has been featured in a variety of news outlets including the Huffington Post, Democracy Now!, and the Rocky Mountain Chronicle, an alternative-weekly in Northern Colorado where she worked as a columnist covering the state legislature. Rosa has received awards from the Society of Professional Journalists for her reporting on lobbying and woman's health issues. She was also tapped with a rare honorable mention award by the Newspaper Guild-CWA's David S. Barr Award in 2008--only the second such honor conferred in its nine-year history--for her investigative series covering the federal government's Supermax prison in the state. Rosa covers the labor community, corrections, immigration and government transparency matters. She can be reached at erosa@www.coloradoindependent.com.

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