Create an Economic Opportunity Poverty Reduction Task Force
Testimony to the Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee
My name is Rich Jones and I am director of policy and research for the Bell Policy Center, a nonpartisan think tank and advocacy organization. I am speaking today in support of HB09-1064, to create the Economic Opportunity Poverty Reduction Task Force to study poverty issues and develop a comprehensive plan to expand economic opportunities in Colorado.
The mission of the Bell Policy Center is to make Colorado a state of opportunity for all. We conduct research, promote public policies and advocate for actions to open gateways to opportunity for all, particularly low-income Coloradans. Colorado should be a place where everyone has a realistic chance to build better lives for themselves and their families, and where factors such as race, gender or economic background are not barriers to prosperity.
We believe that anyone who works hard should have the opportunity to succeed. There is probably no more uniquely American idea than this. The idea that any individual who works hard can prosper is at the core of who we are as a people. Opportunity motivates effort, unleashes the talents of individuals, feeds a dynamic economy and stimulates creativity and invention.
Colorado currently is a state of opportunity for many. Although our economy is slowing down and people are facing considerable challenges, most families earn enough to get ahead. We are one of wealthiest states in the nation and are relatively healthy compared to the residents of other states. For most of us, Colorado is a great place to live, work and raise a family.
However, Colorado is not yet a state of opportunity for everyone. Serious and persistent challenges face many of our residents and their families, making it difficult for them to get ahead.
Between 2000 and 2007 we had the highest rate of increase in the number of children living in poverty of any state in the nation. We also suffer from high drop out rates among our high school students which limit their future economic success. Over one-third (35%) of the low-income working families in Colorado are headed by adults who do not have either a high school degree or a GED placing us 46th among the states.
In 2008, an estimated 800,000 Coloradans did not have health insurance. About half (49%) of low-income working families in Colorado are headed by a parent without health insurance placing us 47th among the states.(1)
Since our founding in 2001 the Bell Policy Center has published four broad reports that present indicators showing how well Colorado is doing in terms of providing opportunity. In our 2002 report we introduced the concept of the Cycle of Opportunity to illustrate how we believe opportunity is created and sustained in the 21st Century.
It presents a series of experiences and events that build on one another and accumulate over the course of a lifetime of effort, and make it possible for families and individuals to realize their full economic, social and personal potential. We express these experiences as a series of nine gateways each one representing a milestone or achievement that sets up each person for future successes.
Based on our previous research we support creating a task force to assess current state polices that promote economic opportunity, evaluate policies and initiatives to reduce poverty and expand economic opportunity and develop a comprehensive and integrated plan to reduce poverty.
Reducing poverty and promoting economic opportunity is a critical issue that has far ranging effects on all Coloradans. Improving the living standards of our most vulnerable residents benefits us all by strengthening our economy, our schools and our society.
Setting aside the necessary time to thoroughly assess existing policies, gather data and evaluate evidence to determine effective approaches for addressing these issues is important. We believe that undertaking this analysis in a comprehensive and integrated fashion will also likely lead to more effective policies.
This will be a bipartisan task force and have the ability to appoint subcommittees comprised of people from different backgrounds, perspectives and expertise. In our view, the broader the level of talent and perspectives among the members of the task force and its subcommittees the better.
Reducing poverty and expanding economic opportunity will help propel Colorado's future prosperity. We urge the General Assembly to pass HB09-1064 and devote the necessary time, talent and resources to craft effective policies to achieve these goals.
(1) Still Working Hard, Still Falling Short, The Working Poor Families Project, October 2008
Low-income family is defined as a family earning less than 200 percent of the poverty income threshold as defined by the U.S. Census for 2006, which was $41,228 for a family of four. The data used in this report are derived from the American Community Survey 2006.