Just 30 miles of farmland separate the cities of Greeley and Fort Collins, but a world of economic difference and inequality can be seen between them â€“â€“ a troubling trend among communities in Colorado.
This dichotomy was just part of a discussion held in Denver Tuesday evening among some of the stateâ€™s leaders in economic development, poverty and inequality.
Titled â€œInequality Matters: the Growing Gap between theRich and the Poor,â€ the event featured some of the leaders in social programs, data analysis and economics to discuss what has happened in the past and what it means for the future of jobs and society in the state and country.
â€œWhat we see driving the U.S. inequality is the growth of the super rich,â€ said Dr. Martin Shields, an associate professor of economics and director of CSUâ€™s Regional Economics Institute.
He went on to say that the median household income has actually declined nationally, despite a 20.2 percent increase in the size of the U.S. economy, largely in part to the â€œsuper rich,â€ which includes celebrities and CEOs.
â€œItâ€™s all in this top 1 percent,â€ according to Shields. He explained that this group has gone from having 8 percent of the total income in 1980 to 18 percent in 2008.
â€œSocieties with high levels of inequality have higher drug abuse, higher prison rates, higher obesity rates and higher rates of violence,â€ he said. â€œWhen you have a society thatâ€™s plagued by these problems, we have to ask if resources are allocated as efficiently as possible.â€
The talks came on the heels of data being released from the U.S. Census Bureauâ€™s 2010 American Community Survey, which reported that Greeleyâ€™s poverty rate was 22.7 percent in 2010 â€“â€“ a leader among Coloradoâ€™s largest cities.
Fort Collinsâ€™ overall rate was 18.2 percent in 2010 according to the study, which ranked it as one of the lowest levels in the state but still surprisingly high to many.
The differences between the two geographically close cities can be partially attributed to the planning process and types of jobs Greeley incorporates, according to Elizabeth Garner, the state demographer with the Colorado Department of Local Affairs.
She went on to explain that a huge relationship can be seen statewide between the types of jobs being created and the people who fill those jobs. This can be linked directly to the rapid growth along the Front Range and Interstate-70 corridors, she said.
Additionally on the state level, data indicates that the aging baby-boomer population will soon be reaching retiring age. This, Garner said, will be one of the biggest problems facing the state as demands for resources combine with decreased revenue.
In lieu of budget cuts and funding concerns, the University of Denverâ€™s Center for Coloradoâ€™s Economic Future was consulted to outline the future plans and potential budgetary solutions for the state. After collecting data and running models for over a year, their result has been one that will require sacrifice on all fronts.
â€œAs much as people like to say it, we donâ€™t think thereâ€™s a realistic way to cut your way out of this problem,â€ said Dr. Phyllis Resnick, the managing director for the program. She was referring to those who say that the easiest way to solve the budget and funding problems is to reduce spending.
But, amid the potentially difficult future, a glimmer of hope can still be found for those with a college degree, at least according to some in attendance Tuesday.
â€œI honestly think Coloradoâ€™s going to face a labor shortage in the next eight years, and it doesnâ€™t feel like that now,â€ Garner said after her presentation.
She said this can be a goldmine of opportunity for recent college graduates, but it is important to begin searching early and making contacts in any potential field of work as soon as possible.
â€œGet in where you can,â€ she said. â€œGet in at the internships. Work around and figure out what kind of industries you like because in the very short run, people are going to be looking for that next person to take over.â€œ
The goal of the eveningâ€™s presentations was to encourage those living in the state to become more civically engaged while stressing the importance of cooperation and sacrifice on all political fronts.
The Colorado Social Legislation Committee put on the event and meets on a regular basis to discuss human needs and lobbying at the state level while educating citizens about the data surrounding controversial political issues.
â€œI think itâ€™s going to take everyone to come up with good solutions to whatâ€™s happening in our state,â€ said CSLC President Mark Turner after the event. â€œObviously weâ€™re facing a lot of challenges.
Itâ€™s important for the students to be engaged and advocate their points of view.â€
Senior Reporter Jason Pohl can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.