2017 Opportunity Handbook

In an effort to expand opportunity in Colorado, we have compiled a report focusing on some of the important levers to economic mobility. To read the full report, please click here.

Based on our research, here are seven key takeaways:

1. Despite Colorado’s vibrant economy, many people who most need help are struggling to afford critical needs from child care to health care, housing and higher education. Economic challenges are preventing people from joining the Cycle of Opportunity.

2. A vibrant, safe childhood stimulates the brain and creates a launching pad for a great life. Colorado needs to help all families access affordable, high-quality child care and pre-school programs. Of the 250,000 children under 6 who need pre-school, only 106,000 slots exist. Costs have risen to between $11,000 and $14,000 per year. Costs are rising faster than median household income.

3. A great education can lift people out of poverty. As demand for high-tech workers increases, affordable options after high school have become more vital than ever. Colorado must commit to putting college and training opportunities in reach for every student. Higher education costs are rising faster than incomes and Colorado now ranks among the least affordable states for two- and four-year public institutions, according to the 2016 University of Pennsylvania College Affordability Diagnosis.

4. A job that pays well and provides benefits is the surest path to a secure, successful life. Since new businesses create most new jobs, Colorado leaders could do more to support people who want to start a business, especially those earning lower wages. Four of the five industry sectors projected to create the majority of Colorado jobs in 2017 pay average wages that are below or barely above $48,600, which is 200 percent of the federal poverty level for a family of four.

5. The key to saving for retirement is starting young. But 45 percent of Coloradans in their prime working years have no access to a retirement plan at work. While Americans overwhelmingly support the idea of saving for retirement, they boast alarmingly small nest eggs. The typical working-age household nationally has only $2,500 in retirement assets and households nearing retirement only have $14,500. Colorado should follow five other states and create the Colorado Secure Savings Plan, an easy, low-cost way to help young people build wealth.

6. Living in a safe, affordable home has a powerful impact on how well children do in school and how they fare later in life. Housing costs are increasing faster than median family incomes. Average apartment rental costs grew by 44.5 percent in Denver and by 50.9 percent in the rest of the state between 2008 and 2015. Over the same period median household income statewide grew by only 8.9 percent. Ultimately, lack of affordable housing will slow Colorado’s job growth.

7. Colorado has made historic gains in providing health insurance to hundreds of thousands of new people through the Affordable Care Act. Colorado has added 407,338 new Medicaid recipients and in 2016, 104,160 people qualified for federal tax subsidies when they bought private health insurance through Colorado’s exchange. Despite increased access to insurance, policy makers need to tackle the tough challenge of driving down costs, which are especially high in western Colorado and other rural areas. In 2015, health care costs represented 9.5 percent of Coloradans’ median incomes up from 6.2 percent in 2004.