Wait til you meet Shely Meraz, the parent on the cover of this edition of TRENDS. She appears on page 28 of our Education chapter to tell her story of resilience in the face of long odds.
Like so many of the Boulder County residents featured in these pages, Meraz shows us what it’s like to live at the center of some of the toughest issues challenging our community.
Each of the following issue-themed chapters profiles people who possess the hard-earned wisdom you can only get from living through tough times. We sought out their stories after carefully analyzing more than 150 indicators of our community’s social, economic and environmental health. Their stories breathe life into the data, and help us arrive at the recommendations we provide in each chapter about how you can help.
Following is a summary of the findings and recommendations that their stories bring to light.
Who Are We?
Demographically, we are becoming more diverse, adding vibrancy, new ideas and variety to our community. One in four Boulder County residents identifies as a person of color. More than 50% of Latinos here are younger than 25. Yet, only four of our county’s 108 elected officials were people of color in 2017. Is this representative democracy? We must work to build a pipeline of diverse leaders.
Life expectancy in the first world has increased dramatically over the last 100 years. Our population is also aging and will require more services in the years to come. Many of our elders live in single family homes, making it more difficult to avoid isolation and sometimes making them house-rich, but cashpoor We must awaken to the needs of our elders.
Graduation rates are soaring among minorities and students from low income families, in Boulder County and across the state. That’s great news on the one hand. But more and more of the students earning their high school diplomas graduate unprepared for what comes next.
We remain home to one of the state’s largest achievement gaps between Latino and Anglo students. The disparities start early, before children even enter school. The Community Foundation’s School Readiness Initiative has helped double preschool and full-day kindergarten, increased local school funding by nearly $1 billion, and launched ELPASO, a new nonprofit Latino parent engagement movement.
There is so much left to do. Economically disadvantaged students need nearly twice the support as their more well-off peers to compensate for the experiences their families aren’t able to afford them. We must find ways to dramatically increase funding for public education and student support services, and we must help parents find the skills, knowledge and power of advocacy they need to ensure success for their children.
Our Health & Human Services
Health care coverage for lower-income people more than doubled after The Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare,” took effect, although Latinos and those without a high school education still lagged behind. As of mid-2017, however, not only the ACA, but Medicaid itself, which covers people below the poverty line, were on shaky ground in Washington.
Fewer than half as many teens are getting pregnant as they were 10 years ago, locally and across the state, since gaining increased access to the most effective methods of contraception – implants and IUDs.
Most Boulder County residents are healthier than average, although our obesity rates, while low, are increasing. And our suicide rate is higher than the national average. While Boulder County has a reputation for openness to LGBTQ concerns, such students are more than two times more likely to report feeling sad or hopeless and more than three times more likely to consider suicide, according to recent surveys.
The need for a connected community has never been greater. We must continue to find ways to connect with and care for one another.
Our Economy & Housing
Boulder County’s stunning natural landscape and our national reputation as a center of innovation and entrepreneurship has attracted a highly educated populace and helped keep unemployment extremely low. On the other hand, our area’s desirability and population growth is pricing out lower- and middleclass residents, even in Longmont and our growing suburbs.
Despite a growing reputation for affiuence, our poverty rate remains on par with the national average. About 1,500 children in Boulder County experience homelessness each year. Their families are typically doubled up, couch surfing with friends, living in cars or sleeping in tents in the mountains. You could make a strong argument that almost all of our struggles fiow downhill from the high cost of housing. Helping vulnerable people get on their feet to afford a place to live, and at the same time creating more affordable housing, should be community-wide priorities.
Just look at these mountains. Our trails and bike paths beckon us outside, connect us to nature and keep us healthy. Many of us here are determined to protect the environment, both locally and globally.
Our ambitious climate goals promise to keep the fracking and municipalization debates alive for the foreseeable future. However, not everyone is part of this conversation. Our county’s low-income neighborhoods are generally far less connected to bike paths, trails and even safe sidewalks.
A promising initiative spearheaded by Thorne Nature Experience is building parks and trails to ensure all Lafayette youth live within a safe 10-minute walk to nature. We must all find ways to enjoy and steward our environment.
Our Arts & Culture
Boulder is home to more artists per capita than anywhere in the country outside Los Angeles and Santa Fe, according to the National Endowment for the Arts. But will a new generation of innovative, not-yet-established artists flock to Boulder County when the rent for even the darkest basement apartment is too expensive?
Recently, full-price ticket sales have climbed above even pre-recession levels. However, let’s not forget the hit the arts took locally around 2009, when corporate sponsorships and attendance simultaneously receded.
Go see live music or a play. Drop by an exhibit. Get into the act. Supporting the arts helps keep our creative class afloat, and keeps our minds open, especially when we experience art for social change.
Our Civic Participation & Giving
The 2016 election was a flashpoint for many, calling into question how we view the world and care for the most marginalized. It may come as a surprise to some that locally, we are not very open to racial and ethnic minorities and refugees, according to the most recent Community Foundation survey. Openness to senior citizens is also waning locally, our survey found.
We are generous with our time, volunteering for non-profit work to better our community and others. However, we are much less generous with charitable donations of much needed cash. Our secular culture, a high turnover rate amongst residents, and a small and diffuse local fundraising infrastructure are part of why we’re less generous.
Those who do give generously tend to feel called by a sense of social justice or a spiritual motivation. They have a desire to “pay it forward.” They are committed to community. They understand that a high quality of life for everyone is in everyone’s self interest. Many of them were raised by parents who taught them to give back.
Our Call to Action
How will you give back?
It shouldn’t be this hard to beat the odds right here in a community so otherwise abundant with human and natural resources.
TRENDS is filled with stories, findings, recommendations and a searchable database full of more than 150 indicators of our community’s social, economic and environmental health.
The people in these stories inspire us and remind us that, despite our struggles, we are finding our resolve.
Now it’s up to us to change the odds.
What will you resolve to do? What’s your next move?