Fort Collins Coloradan, December 31, 2007: Rise in poverty tops ’07 stories

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Most residents wouldn’t know it from driving down College Avenue where well-kept storefronts and bike lanes illustrate a world-class community going about its business.

What isn’t apparent is a rising childhood poverty rate in Fort Collins that has increased 132 percent since 2000.

A Coloradoan analysis of United States Census data and other government indicators presented a new look at a hidden population in the city and began to look at ways the community can address the problem.

“I think the fact that the Coloradoan highlighted the demographic numbers and the actual statistics that show the underlying change in our community from say 20 years ago was very powerful,” said Mary Atchison, vice president of the United Way of Larimer County. “It brought the attention of this entire community to the issue which affects so many individuals and families in our city.”

An estimated 5,159 Fort Collins children – 19.2 percent of everyone younger than 18 – lived below the federal poverty level in 2006, according to the American Community Survey, an annual report by the U.S. Census Bureau.

In the 2000 census, the number of Fort Collins children living in poverty was 2,216, or 8.7 percent of the childhood population at the time.

The number of Fort Collins children living in poverty has grown by 132 percent since the 2000 census, including 20 percent in the last year, according to Census Bureau data.

After the Coloradoan ran a weeklong series on the rising poverty demographic, the United Way partnered with other local agencies to create a poverty task force that is meeting monthly to look at what the community can do to help.

“We are looking at changing the community, and we are looking at addressing individual responsibility around poverty,” Atchison said. “We are also looking at any necessary policy changes that could be implemented. The approaches have to be systemic if we are really going to work on this issue.”

Although the answers to solving poverty within the city will not come easy, or fast, the effort is essential, advocates say, if Fort Collins is going to continue being the world-class community people see it as today.

“We’ve had a large number of community members step up and volunteer to get involved,” Atchison said. “And the fact that there is an effort in place for people to get involved, that is making participation in finding a solution easier. The bottom line is it’s making a big difference.”

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