Colorado’s Geographic and Racial Diversity

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Three-quarters of Colorado’s 64 counties are rural and cover about 78,000 of the state’s 104,000 square miles. Less than 15 percent of the state population (about 698,000 people) occupies this vast geographic area that spans the Western Slope, the Eastern Plains and the San Luis Valley. Over 80 percent of the state’s 5.5 million people live in the 12 counties that make up the Front Range.

Real differences exist between urban and rural areas of the state.

  • Median household income is 29 percent lower in rural areas of the state compared to urban areas (about a $14k difference). Poverty and unemployment rates are higher in rural counties.
  • The nine-county corridor between Colorado Springs and Fort Collins, encompassing the Denver metro area, accounts for 80 percent of the state’s jobs.
  • Nearly 40 percent of prime working age people in rural counties have a high school education or less, compared to 31 percent in urban areas.
  • The economic gap between urban and rural areas of Colorado has continued to widen since the Great Recession and the uneven recovery that followed. Colorado has one of the largest economic gaps between urban and rural areas in the country (along with Virginia, South Carolina and Florida).

Recent research suggests that where people live significantly impacts health outcomes. Life expectancy for low-income people varies by as much as 5 years depending on where they live. Disparities in life expectancy based on where people live are not inevitable, however. Investments aimed at improving health behaviors (smoking, obesity and exercise) and community infrastructure (mass transit, health services and access to healthy food) positively influence health outcomes.

Map 1: Population density, by race and ethnicity
density by race and ethnicity
Source: U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey, 2010-2014

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