New Report: Economic Mobility for Colorado’s Low-Income Families

A new report examines a concerning trend facing Coloradans: Stagnant public investment is paralyzing economic mobility for low- and middle-income Coloradans. First, the report (commissioned by the Bell Policy Center and authored by CSU economists Dr. Anita Alves Pena and John Singleton) looks at the state of Colorado’s low-income families, showing how incomes haven’t kept pace with growing costs. Second, the report highlights state spending trends, showing an alarming state of stagnant public expenditure.

Related: Colorado Middle Class Families: Characteristics & Cost Pressures

Using over 20 years of state spending data, the report analyzes where public investment is most effective in supporting upward economic mobility. Through this analysis, the report shows when adjusted for inflation and population, state public expenditures have not grown. In particular, direct General Fund investments in higher education spending have decreased over the last 20 years. While higher education remains a valuable tool for upward mobility, Colorado is not sufficiently investing here. This results in postsecondary credentials that are too expensive. For some families, this means that higher education is inaccessible. For those who invest in education for a better life, these credentials may be too expensive to provide a good return on investment.

The study’s researchers pair this analysis with a survey of the characteristics of Colorado families, using census data, that helps paint a picture of how middle class and low-income families have changed over time. The report highlights how cost pressures for low-income families have grown and public support through state investment hasn’t kept up. The report also shows how opportunities for families to advance into a more secure life are limited. This is because decreased public investment renders the traditional mechanisms for upward mobility less accessible and less valuable.

For communities of color in particular, this new analysis shows K-12 education and higher education remain key drivers of upward economic mobility. Unsurprisingly, incarceration is a significant driver of downward mobility. These findings prove Coloradans can be better supported with the tools already at hand. The challenge now is in prioritizing investments in areas that advance economic mobility while decreasing spending in areas that don’t.

Economic Mobility for Low-Income Families in Colorado: The Need for Increased Targeted Public Investment provides lawmakers a blueprint for where public investment should be prioritized and where to spend less. Ultimately, this report shows that there is a lot we can do so that economic mobility can be realized for all of Colorado’s families.

Read the new report in its entirety below (refresh your browser if it doesn’t appear) or download your own copy by clicking here.

This research was made possible through a grant from the Rudy and Alice Ramsey Foundation.