The town of Las Animas, shown here in July 25, 2019, is the county seat for Bent County in southeastern Colorado. (Mike Sweeney For Colorado Newsline)
Three counties in Colorado rank in the top 100 counties in the United States with high poverty and high COVID-19 death rates, according to a report published this month.
Bent, Otero and Conejos counties were ranked as part of a report published by the Poor People’s Campaign, which works to improve legislation to help low-income people.
The Poor People’s Campaign and the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network developed a pandemic report and dashboard that analyze the disproportionate effect of COVID on low-income communities by connecting county-level data on COVID deaths with other county characteristics, according to the report. The interactive dashboard shows a heat map of a county’s median income and COVID death rate, as well as other county information, including its demographics, police violence rate and percent of people who spend 30% or more of income on rent.
The Poor People’s Pandemic: Mapping the Intersections of Poverty, Race and COVID-19 report found that there is a connection between a county being low-income and having a high COVID death rate.
“The finding of this report reveals neglect, and sometimes intentional decisions to not focus on the poor,” Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign, said in a news conference that addressed the report’s findings.
COVID data collection does not include data on poverty, income or occupation, alongside race, and pandemic outcomes, Barber said. The Poor People’s Pandemic Report addresses this knowledge gap by mapping the community characteristics and connecting them with COVID outcomes.
Bent County is ranked 12th on the list of 300 counties with high poverty and COVID death rates that was emailed to Newsline by the director of communications at Repairers of the Breach.
The “wealthiest” counties vary slightly depending on whether median income or per capita income is used. In Colorado, Pitkin County has the highest per capita income in the state, based on the 2010 census, and Bent County has the lowest.
“We must shift the moral narrative and this report is further evidence. We must put a face on human abuse and social and political and policy murder. We must build power and refuse to be silent anymore,” Barber said.
While most research tends to use 100% of the federal poverty line to characterize someone as living in poverty, the Poor People’s Pandemic Report considers a person to be living in poverty if they live at 200% or less of the poverty line. Practically speaking, that is under $28,000 for a single person and under $55,000 for a household with two parents and two children, Alainna Lynch, senior research manager at the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network, said at the conference.
We must put a face on human abuse and social and political and policy murder. We must build power and refuse to be silent anymore.
– Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign
The Poor People’s Campaign doubled what is considered to be poverty because official poverty measures are too low and outdated, according to the report. The report exemplifies this by writing that in 2019, the threshold for poverty was $13,300 for a single person and $25,926 for a household with two children and two adults.
According to IndexMundi, using 2014 median household income data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the top six wealthiest counties in the state are Douglas County, Elbert County, Broomfield County, Eagle County and Jefferson County, in that order.
The findings for each county on the dashboard include data from the start of the pandemic until the beginning of April 2022, according to a statement emailed to Newsline, attributed to Shailly Gupta Barnes, the policy director for the the Poor People’s Campaign and the Kairos Center for Religions, Rights and Social Justice, which works to build a movement to end poverty that is led by the poor, according to its website.
While cumulative deaths include everyone in a county who died of COVID, the death rate gives a better perspective and reference, because the death rate accounts for varying population size. For example, Jefferson County, which had over 1,280 deaths, has a population of over 582,000. Costilla County, which had 14 deaths, has a population of just over 3,740. The death rate per 100,000 people in Jefferson County is 221; in Costilla County, it’s 360.
The report also looked at the percent of uninsured residents in a county and the percent of people living below 200% of the poverty line.
While there are some differences in vaccine rates across counties, vaccine rates do not explain the full differences in death rates, Lynch said.
Half of Conejos and Otero county residents are fully vaccinated and about a quarter of people in Bent County are fully vaccinated as of Tuesday, according to the Statesman Journal.
More than 60% of people in Costilla County are fully vaccinated, yet the county has a death rate of 360 per 100,000 people.
Almost half of Morgan County residents are fully vaccinated, but the county has a death rate of 454 per 100,000 people. Almost half of Delta County residents are fully vaccinated, but Delta County has a death rate of 414 per 100,000 people.
Just over half of Park County residents are fully vaccinated and the county’s death rate is 106 per 100,000 people.
Morgan County’s median income is $53,682, Delta County’s median income is $45,269 and Park County’s is $73,622.
- Death rate per 100,000 people: 135
- Median income: $99,199
- Percent of population fully vaccinated: 39.89%
- Death rate per 100,000 people: 473
- Median income: $53,318
- Percent of population fully vaccinated: 39.37%
According to a Poor People’s Campaign Pandemic Report Dashboard
Over half of people living in the poorest counties have received their second COVID vaccine shot, according to the executive summary of the report.
“COVID-19 has been a ‘poor people’s pandemic’ in a nation that has 87 million uninsured people and 39 million who made less than a living wage before the pandemic hit,” Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, the national co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign, said in a statement earlier this month.
Death rates in counties with the lowest median income compared to counties with the highest median income
- Third phase (winter 2020-2021): Death rates were 4.5 times higher
- Fifth phase (Delta variant): Death rates were 5 times higher
- Sixth phase (Omicron variant): Death rates were almost 3 times higher
According to the Poor People’s Campaign Report Executive Summary
If vaccine rates were the largest reason for the difference in COVID outcomes between high and low-income communities, the difference would be expected to lessen throughout the pandemic, as vaccines became more widely available. But, according to the report’s executive summary, with the exception of the first phase of the pandemic, March though June 2020, death rates were many times higher in low-income counties than they were in higher-income counties.
The 300 counties with the highest death rates have a poverty rate of 45%, which is 1.5-times higher than in counties with lower death rates, according to the summary. The report also found that communities with high COVID death rates have a median income that is on average $23,000 less than counties with lower death rates.
Douglas County has the highest median income in the state, based on 2018 data, and Otero County has the lowest. Douglas County, which was also deemed the wealthiest county in Colorado by Forbes, has a death rate of 112 per 100,000 people and a median income of almost $200,000. Just under 3% of the county is uninsured, according to the dashboard.
Colorado is not alone in this disparity. Loudoun County, Virginia, which has the highest median income in the country, has a death rate of 84 per 100,000 people and a median income of almost $142,300. Dickenson County, which is among the counties with the lowest median incomes in Virginia, has a death rate of 286 per 100,000 people, and a median income of a little over $29,900, according to the dashboard.
Galax County, Virginia is ranked first on the list of 300 counties with high poverty and COVID death rates. Galax County has a death rate of 1,134 per 100,000 people and almost 50% of the county lives below the 200% poverty line.
Impact on Black residents
Counties that have disproportionately more Black residents had significantly higher COVID death rates than counties with a lower percentage of Black residents, Lynch said in the conference. The report considered a county to have a disproportionate percentage of Black residents if they made up more than 13.4% of the population.
The poorest 10th of counties are spread across every region in the country, but they are disproportionally in the South and Southwest, Lynch said.
Fifteen percent of Black people in the United States live in the poorest 10th percentile counties, according to the report. Almost 27% of all Indigenous people and 13% of Hispanic people in the country live in the poorest 10th percentile counties.
Almost 75% of residents in Hancock, Georgia — ranked second on the list of counties with high poverty, high COVID death rates, are Black or African American. The county’s death rate is 1,029 per 100,000 people and over half of residents live in poverty.
Eight counties in New Mexico are included in the list of 300 high poverty, high COVID death rates, including McKinley County, which has a death rate of 786 per 100,000 people and a median income of about $33,830. Almost three-fourths of residents are American Indian or Alaskan Native, according to the dashboard.
Six counties in Montana had both a high percentage of people of color and a high COVID death rate.
Other Colorado counties
Denver County is the largest county in the state, followed by El Paso County and Arapahoe County, according to the 2020 American Community Survey. Both Denver and El Paso County have over 710,000 residents.
Here are examples of counties and their characteristics in other various regions of Colorado:
Baca County, in southeastern Colorado, has a death rate of 223 per 100,000 people and a median income of almost $35,900, according to the dashboard. The county has a police violence rate of 56 deaths per 1 million people.
Yuma County, in northeastern Colorado, has a death rate of 230 per 100,000 people and a median income of just over $52,000, according to the dashboard. Almost 40% of residents pay 30% or more of income on rent and 9% of people in Yuma County are uninsured.
Dolores County, in southwestern Colorado, has a death rate of 341 per 100,000 people and a median income of about $46,000. About a third of residents live below the 200% poverty line.
Gunnison County, in western Colorado, has a COVID death rate of 80 per 100,000 people and median income of almost $56,600. Almost 10% of residents are uninsured and about half of residents are paying 30% or more of income on rent. The county has a police violence rate of 23 deaths per 1,000,000 people.
Park County, in central Colorado, has a death rate of 106 per 100,000 people and a median income of about $73,600, according to the dashboard. Over 60% of residents pay 30% or more of income on rent and about 9% of residents are uninsured.
The Food Bank Network of the San Luis Valley saw an increase in the number of people using its three pantries in Conejos County over the past two years, Annalise Baer, director of La Puente’s Food Bank Network of the San Luis Valley, wrote in an email to Newsline.
The Antonito pantry saw a 442% increase from 2019 to its 2021 total client numbers and a 66% increase from its 2020 to 2021 numbers, Baer wrote. This includes people who used the food pantry more than once in a given year. The La Jara pantry saw an 87% increase in its 2019 to 2021 client numbers and the Capulin pantry has seen an 111% increase in its number of clients in 2019 compared to 2021.
The Food Bank Network of the San Luis Valley saw a 31.5% increase from 2019 to 2021 in unduplicated individuals in its three pantries and a 68% increase from 2019 to 2021 in total clients served each years. “Meaning that not only did we see more unique clients over the pandemic, but that our clients also visited the pantries more frequently,” Baer wrote.
COVID has killed more than 988,000 people in the United States, including over 13,000 in Colorado.
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