Racial and ethnic inequities in Colorado can vary greatly by county

Colorado’s largest minority groups, Latinos and blacks, have lost ground compared to the state’s white residents in some of the most important measure of social progress since the era of the civil rights movement. Those measures includes family income, poverty rates, home ownership and high school and college graduation rates, according to an analysis of six decades of U.S. Census Bureau data by I-News at Rocky Mountain PBS.

The findings, published earlier this year as part of the I-News Losing Ground project, are statewide. But there are surprising differences in Colorado’s most populous counties about the extent of the disparities, with some locales being more equitable than others.

In Boulder County, for example, Latino families now make less than 40 percent of the median family income of white families.  That’s the lowest rate among the 10 most populous Colorado counties. Thirty years ago, the Boulder County figure for Latino families was about 65 percent of white incomes.

Colorado Counties

Minority households in El Paso County overall had among the smallest gaps with white households economically and in education levels than other major counties in the state. The gap between the percent of white and black residents living in poverty in the county has fallen during the five decades between 1970 and 2010.

Pueblo County has among the smallest income and poverty gaps in 2010 between white and Latino residents, while Weld County has some of the largest gaps. In Denver, only about 10 percent of Latino adult residents had college degrees in 2010, while 60 percent of white adults did, a gap of almost 50 percentage points and the largest among the state’s big counties.

Ethnic and Racial Disparities in Colorado’s Largest Counties

Editor’s Note: The analysis of economic and education attainment gaps between Colorado’s white, Latino and black residents encompasses 1970 through 2010 for most of the 10 large counties. However, only Denver and El Paso counties had significant number of black residents to compare gaps over the decades. In addition, in some counties such as Larimer and Mesa, the Latino populations were too small in 1970 to calculate gaps.

Boulder County has seen a dramatic increase in income, education and homeownership disparities between white and Latino residents over the past five decades. As a result, the county has some of the widest gaps among Colorado’s largest counties. Latino families in the county now make less than 40 percent of the median family income of white families. That’s the lowest rate among the 10 most populous Colorado counties. Thirty years ago, the figure was about 65 percent of white incomes. The college graduation gap between white and Latino adults has more than tripled in the county since 1970 and is now the second widest among the 10 counties. Boulder County saw a drop in the poverty gap between 1970 and 1980, but it has widened ever since. It is now the second highest among the 10 counties. The county also has the third highest gap in home ownership rates between Latino and white households.

Minority households in El Paso County overall had among the smallest gaps with white households economically and in education levels than other major counties in the state.

Since 1970, the county has seen the gaps in high school graduation rates between black and Latino adults compared to white adults cut dramatically. The gap between the percent of white and black adults with high school degrees has dropped from nine percentage points to two percentage points and the gap between Latino and white adults has been reduced from 24 percentage points to 14 percentage points. In addition, the gap between the percent of white and black residents living in poverty has fallen over the five decades between 1970 and 2010. It is also one of only two major counties in the state to see only slight increases in the poverty gap between Latino and white residents over the same time frame.

Pueblo County has among the smallest income and poverty gaps in 2010 between white and Latino residents. Latino families earned about 66 percent of what white families earned. Only Mesa and Larimer counties, with much smaller Hispanic populations, had smaller gaps among the state’s largest counties. However, both gaps have widened since the 1970s and 1980s. In 1980, Latino families in Pueblo County earned 78 percent of what white families earned. Latino households in the county also had the highest percent of homeowners among the major counties in 2010, 58 percent and the second smallest gap with white households, 15 percentage points. But that gap, too, had widened since 1970 when 67percent of Hispanic households owned their own home and the gap with white households was only 8 percentage points. The county’s Latino adults had among the lowest percentage of college and high school graduates in 2010 among the large counties, but the gap with its white counterparts ranked in the middle.

Weld County has since 1970 had among the largest gaps between white and Latino residents in most of the economic and educational indicators. By 2010, Latino families earned only about half of what white families in the county earned. The Hispanic poverty rate was three times the white rate – 29 percent vs. 9 percent and the college graduate rate was one third of the rate for white adults – 9 percent vs. 29 percent. However, the gaps since 1970 had not widened as much as in most of the major counties in Colorado, and Latinos in Weld did see the gaps narrow slightly on most of the indicators between 1970 and 1980 before widening again.
Overall, Latinos in the county had the third lowest high school graduation rate in 2010 and second lowest college graduation rate compared to Latino adults in the other major counties.

Larimer County is one of the few large counties in Colorado where the gaps between Latinos and whites have remained little changed over the decades or have narrowed slightly. (Note: Many of the gap comparisons between White and Latino residents in the county can only go back to 1980 because the Latino population was so small in 1970.) Latino families in Larimer earned about 74 percent of white family earnings in 2010, about the same level as in 1980. As a result, the county had the highest median family income in 2010 for Latinos among the state’s largest counties, $55,266, and the lowest Hispanic poverty rate, 16.7 percent. The home ownership gap is the only disparity to have gone up significantly during the four decades.
The gap between Latino and white adults in college degrees in the county, home to Colorado State University, has remained about the same over the 30 years and has narrowed for high school graduation rates. The college graduation rate for Latino adults was 26 percent by 2010, the highest among the largest counties.

Mesa County is the other large county in Colorado that has seen little change in the gaps since 1980. (The Latino population in 1970 was too small to calculate the gaps.) Latino families earned about 74 percent of white families in 2010, down from 1980, but the highest percent in Colorado among large counties. The gap in home ownership rates has not changed much since 1980 and was one of the lowest in the state. The gap between the two groups in college degrees was little changed and the gap in high school degrees had narrowed. Only the poverty gap had gone up significantly – from 11 percentage points in 1980 to 16 percentage points in 2010.

METRO AREA

Adams County, with the highest percent of Latino residents among the state’s largest counties, has seen a steady widening of the gaps between Latinos and white residents since 1970. The gap in poverty rates has tripled as has the gap in college degrees between Latino and white adults. While the majority of Colorado counties have seen the gap in high school degrees narrow, Adams County has seen an increase by about a third. In 1970, the home ownership rates for Latino and white households were about the same. By 2010, the gap was 20 percentage points. In 1980, Latino family incomes were more than 90 percent of white incomes. By 2010, they had dropped to 61 percent.

Arapahoe County has also seen an explosive widening of the gaps between Latino and white residents between 1970 and 2010, especially over the past two decades. The widening disparities track the hefty growth in the county’s Latino community since 2000. The gaps in high school and college graduation rates, home ownership rates and poverty rates have all grown by three times or more since 1970. In 1970, Latino families in the county had the second highest median family income among Hispanics living in the state’s 10 largest counties. By 2010, it was fifth highest.

Denver has the largest education gaps between Latino and white residents among the state’s 10 largest counties. Since 1970, the college graduate gap has grown from 14 percentage points to almost 50 percentage points. As a result, in 2010, only about 10 percent of Latino adults had college degrees compared to almost 60 percent of white adults. The college gaps between white and black Denver residents have also grown dramatically and are only slightly narrower than the Latino gaps – about 40 percentage points in 2010. Denver also has the second largest gap among the state’s largest counties in median family income between Latinos and whites. Latino families earned only about 39 percent of white families in the city in 2010. For black families, it was 40 percent of white incomes. Minority households fare better in Denver among home ownership rates. The gaps have not changed significantly for Latino households since 1970. The gaps in poverty for both minority groups have gone up and down over the decades.

Gaps between Latino and white residents in Jefferson County have consistently widened as the county’s Hispanic population has grown since 1970. However, Latinos in the county generally fare better today in economic status and education levels than their counterparts in other large Colorado counties. Latinos have the second highest median family incomes among the 10 largest counties in the state and the second lowest poverty rates in 2010. Hispanic adults have the third highest college graduation rates and fourth highest high school graduation rates. But despite the low relative poverty rates, the gap with white residents has more than tripled since 1970 as have the gaps for college and high school graduation rates.

The Losing Ground report is available online and by downloadable e-book. It continues to be discussed at community forums, and the Colorado Black Roundtable, an organization of African American leaders from across the state, has launched a summer-long effort to spread word about the findings that will culminate with a summit Sept. 21 at Denver’s Manual High School.

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