Colorado’s Changing Economy Removed a Major Blue-Collar Path to the Middle Class

Losing Ground – Changing Economy from I-News on Vimeo.

Six decades of data from the U.S. Census Bureau offer unmistakable evidence that Colorado is a state with growing economic disparities. An analysis of the data by I-News at Rocky Mountain PBS found that the state’s largest two minority groups, Latinos and  black, are falling farther behind their white counterparts in some of the most important measures of social progress – including family income, poverty, home ownership and high school and college graduation.

The analysis, published earlier this year in Losing Ground, also shows that Colorado was a more equitable state than the national average during the first decades reviewed but has evolved into a less equitable state than average in more recent decades.  So why and how has that happened?

I-News explored the social phenomena behind the numbers with community activists and politicians, researchers from liberal and conservative think tanks, educators, church leaders and people in the street. The reasons given for the gaps were myriad and complex. Thy are rooted in history and intergenerational in nature.

But one factor that most everyone agreed upon was the changing nature of the state’s economy. Many thousands of good paying manufacturing jobs – think of Pueblo’s CF&I Steel or Denver’s Gates Rubber Co. or Montbello’s Samsonite Corp. – have disappeared, hurting minority families disproportionately. A major, blue collar path to a better life simply went away.

“In a way, Colorado was by virtue of its older economy a more equal place than the rest of the United States,” said Alan Berube, research director for the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. “But it’s just picked up in droves these elements of the national economy and it’s now more like a caricature of the United States in terms of the imbalance between the high end and the low end –where the high end is disproportionately employing highly educated whites and the low is probably employing disproportionately, less educated Latinos and African Americans.”

The I-News 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 this Saturday. Sept. 21, at Denver’s Manual High School.


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