Child poverty estimate may be too low in Mesa County

A childhood poverty study released Tuesday reported 12 percent of Mesa County’s school-age children lived in poverty in 2008.

A lot has changed since then.

Mesa County may have had the 40th lowest child poverty rate of Colorado’s 64 counties two years ago, according to the 2010 Kids Count in Colorado report from the Colorado Children’s Campaign. But local agencies that help those struggling to make ends meet say the rate likely has increased since 2008.

Caseloads have nearly doubled since 2008 for some programs offered to families by the Mesa County Department of Human Services, according to DHS spokeswoman Karen Martsolf. Applications for food assistance in Mesa County increased by 97 percent March 2009 and March 2010, she said. Applications for child and family health insurance programs Medicaid and CHP+ also increased.

“We’re seeing more and more families struggling to make ends meet,” Martsolf said.

Martsolf said she has seen a “ripple effect” in the community. Unemployment rates went up and topped 9.1 percent by July. The percentage of local students qualifying for free and reduced meals increased this fall more than 6 percentage points to 45 percent. Foreclosure sales and filing rates in Mesa County continue to climb.

“It’s running parallel with what we’re seeing in our case-loads. People are coming through our doors that have never needed us before,” Martsolf said.

Sister Karen Bland of Catholic Outreach said the organization’s soup kitchen feeds about 300 people a day, including children under the age of 5 eating with their parents while siblings are at school. Bland said the waiting room at Catholic Outreach is packed with families each morning, and the clothing bank outfits 700 people a day. Patronage has increased since unemployment numbers increased sharply in early 2009, she said.

“What has changed is there are more and more people seeking emergency assistance. Some people that used to be donors are now coming in for assistance,” Bland said. “People are coming in with kids, trying to save their homes, or living in cars.”

The Kids Count report placed the child poverty rate at 15 percent in 2008. In 2000, less than 10 percent of Colorado children lived in poverty.

A person living alone who makes $10,830 or less a year is considered impoverished in the United States. A family is in poverty if $3,740 is added to that base income of $10,830 for each additional person in the home, and the family makes that total amount or less.


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