The success of a community turns on its residents’ connectedness with one another. For Emily Sánchez, the Longmont High School graduate featured on our cover, it comes down to representation and access.
Emily describes herself as “a warrior for social justice” in the story about her on page 24. Her future is beyond bright, and her focus is on others. She is determined to help find equity for her people and for the community that raised her.
In this edition of TRENDS, we invite you to discover neighbors such as Emily, who you may have not yet met. We connected with them after carefully analyzing more than 150 indicators of our community’s social, economic and environmental health, interviewing experts, and then seeking out the people in the middle of these new and persistent trends. You can find all of their stories, plus far more charts tracking and discussing these community indicators, at www.commfound.org/TRENDS.
Following is a summary of our findings and recommendations.
Who Are We?
Who lives in Boulder County depends somewhat on who can afford to live here. The county is aging rapidly, in part because families struggle to find adequate housing. More and more wealthy people are moving in.
Those with stable, affordable housing are able to enjoy all the advantages of staying in place. Those without move more frequently. More than half of Boulder County renters spent more than a third of their income on rent in 2017, according to census data.
Boulder’s Arts and Human Relations commissions, the Boulder Chamber of Commerce, disability advocates and other groups not traditionally involved in housing are calling for solutions. How a community approaches housing is really the question of who it wants to live there.
Full-day, free kindergarten will be available consistently across the state for the first time in 2019, providing a stronger start for students and economic relief for parents.
St. Vrain Valley Schools has partnered with community colleges and more than 100 companies to ensure more students graduate with the hard skills necessary to compete in rapidly changing, technology-driven industries. Boulder Valley Schools’ new superintendent says the community is ready to implement plans to narrow the wide disparities that persist between minority and low-income students and their peers.
High school graduation rates are improving, especially for our county’s Latino and low-income students. Front Range Community College, the University of Colorado Boulder and Naropa University are diversifying their student populations. This is welcome news. However, students from diverse backgrounds still struggle to find teachers and mentors who understand where they’re coming from.
The quality of an education depends as much on the connections forged between students and their teachers, parents and other mentors, as it does on other factors. We must continue to seek culturally and linguistically responsive connections to ensure all students thrive.
Our Health & Human Services
Boulder County’s uninsured rate remains low, thanks to the Affordable Care Act and local efforts to enroll low-income residents in publicly funded health programs. However, at this writing, enrollment in Medicaid and Colorado’s Child Health Plan Plus was off about 10% from its highest point in 2017. This is likely the combined result of a slight increase in residents receiving insurance through employers alongside the impacts of national rhetoric and policy proposals discouraging participation.
Marijuana use among teenagers has not increased since legalization. However, vaping has accelerated. Teen opioid use remains a concern. More than twice as many students are hospitalized for self-harm or attempted suicide as with injuries from auto accidents. LGBQ students remain much more likely to abuse substances, harm themselves or attempt suicide than heterosexual teens.
Local jails continue to house prisoners who need mental health treatment. Boulder County voters approved a ballot issue recently to help address these needs. Across the county, awareness seems to be increasing — and stigma decreasing — about the importance of mental health care. We must continue to connect with each other about our needs, both visible and harder to see.
Our Economy & Housing
Boulder County has enjoyed some of the lowest unemployment in the nation in recent years. The Area Median Income is among the highest in Colorado. Nearly 40,000 new jobs have been added locally in the past decade.
Still, a tenth of residents are below the poverty line, and more than a quarter of the population doesn’t earn enough to cover their basic needs. Those who bought houses early are enjoying millions of dollars in appreciation. But more than 60% of residents don’t earn enough to buy a house here. These financial worries are compounded for families with young children needing child care.
We must work to ensure everyone who lives here is able to thrive. Even in a small county, seeing and beginning to understand one another’s struggles is an important first step.
Boulder County is an environmental leader on Open Space and an innovator on mass transit incentives and bike paths. Yet, challenges persist related to population growth and a rapidly changing climate.
Auto and fracking emissions have kept air quality less than optimal and ozone high. Denver Water and Boulder County are quarreling over the expansion of Gross Reservoir. The Emerald Ash Borer threatens our urban forest. Neonic pesticides, declining water quality and loss of habitat have reduced the population of pollinating insects. And soil quality on Open Space agricultural land has suffered from overgrazing and an exploding prairie dog population.
The city of Boulder is responding by establishing baselines for pollinators, aquatic insects and soil quality with an eye to improvement, and working to keep tree cover constant. Statewide, Gov. Jared Polis has prioritized improving air quality, allowing more local control over oil and gas operations, enhancing transit and encouraging an increase in electric vehicles.
We must think globally but act locally to conserve our vital resources in balance with our region’s water, energy and transportation needs.
Our Arts & Culture
Boulder County arts organizations are working to diversify our vibrant arts community. Public arts festivals have grown in recent years in Boulder, Longmont, Louisville and Lafayette. The county has also encouraged public art.
The Scientific and Cultural Facilities District has enacted changes in its own operations to increase diversity, inclusiveness and equity, and to serve as a model for the arts organizations it funds.
Boulder County is fortunate to have one of the most thriving arts scenes anywhere in the United States. We must all work to ensure it’s accessible and relevant to all audiences.
Our Civic Participation & Giving
We are least open to minorities, immigrants and refugees, and we are not very accepting of senior citizens, either, according to The Community Foundation’s civic participation and giving survey. It’s one of many data points leading institutions across our county, including this Community Foundation, to prioritize equity in their work.
Is this intention leading to a more inclusive community with more equitable outcomes for the most vulnerable and marginalized among us? On one measure, the answer is no. Our charitable giving rates are well below the national average. This is driven, in part, by residents not seeing the needs around them, and not knowing enough about what local nonprofits are doing to address those needs, our survey finds.
More and more, the Community Foundation is hearing a common theme emerge as it listens to members of our community. People feel disconnected. Lonely. They are yearning for the sorts of relationships with one another that might increase awareness of our community’s needs.
The 2020 Census offers us an opportunity to get to know each other a little better. So much depends on a complete and accurate count, including this report, which relies on the Census for a majority of its data.
We live in a community that prides itself on being inclusive and welcoming to all. We must do more to help our community’s actions match its words.
Our Call to Action
Who deserves to live here? What’s holding some of our students back, while others succeed? How can we best steward a healthy environment? Who’s not participating in our vibrant arts scene? How can we ensure that everyone feels seen, feels safe and feels valued?
We can all take steps to help answer these wicked questions. At another level, however, our community’s most pressing needs are far too big for anyone to meet alone. The Community Foundation invites you to join in this larger conversation by reading this report and listening to our new TRENDS podcast on KGNU and elsewhere.
When your imagination is stirred to action, join the march toward a more equitable Boulder County. Stand with your vulnerable and marginalized neighbors. Engage with them and others to build a more connected and inclusive community.
Discover. Connect. Engage. Together, we can find our way.