A fellow blogger, Chas, pointed out an article in the Denver Post. You can find it here.
Sometimes having a little knowledge is a good thing. Other days it is just damn irritating! So, forgive me for climbing up on a soapbox for a few minutes. (thank you Chas!) Articles like this drive me nuts.
The Denver Post published an article stating that out of the 64 counties in Colorado, Douglas County ranks the healthiest and Huerfano County ranks last. This was in spite of the fact that seven counties were not included due to insufficient data. In many ways, as with unemployment and educational data, there are statistical anomalies that hurts our county. The manner in which data is sorted and compared is also damaging.
Yes, we are probably one of the poorest counties in the state. Unemployment is at 13%. We are one of 11 school districts taking part in the state wide TDIP (Targeted District Improvement Plan) and we have a population of about 7560 people. That’s about 4.9 people per square mile.
Now, what skews facts? First off, Urban vs Rural. It is the demographic Damocles Sword. Douglas county, up there between Colorado Springs and Denver has just about everything nearby. They have choices that those of us in rural areas only dream about. These choices impact people in ways that demographic computers can’t calculate. And yes, that is what they use. A database run by academics in Denver and Northern Colorado. For the most part, they plug in a set of values and then apply them across the board to the entire state. In some ways this is a good thing. In others it produces comparisons that are in line with apples and hex bolts.
Some facts that those data bases never stumble across are well known to the denizens of Huerfano County. We have a love/hate relationship with some of them. The Fox is our only theater. No multiplex, just one theater with one movie; Friday, Saturday and Sunday. There is NO Department of Motor Vehicles. We have two sets of stoplights in the entire county and they are one block apart. Walsenburg averages 30+ trains a day bisecting the city. We can walk anywhere in town in under 30 minutes. There are two grocery stores, two small dollar stores, numerous antique shops, a few specialty shops, and our video store is a bookstore and the local bus station. Walsenburg has a great library, four major highways intersecting it, half a dozen diners and fast food joints. And that doesn’t even touch La Veta or Gardner and their assets.
Next, Council of Governments. (COG) Huerfano and Las Animas counties are joined at the hip due to a COG agreement. While economically good for the counties in general, when it comes to data collection, COG messes up the statistics. As for unemployment, the two counties are tied to six others in the San Luis Valley as the South Central Workforce Board. Some of those counties have even higher unemployment than Huerfano County. They are some of the same counties with too little data for the Denver Post article as well.
Our mayor made a good point in the article. He mentions that most people go to Pueblo for health services. It’s true. One of the biggest employers in the county has HMOs based in Pueblo or Colorado Springs. Yes, we have doctors, dentists, a hospital and a nursing home. However, it was a banner headline last year when a baby was born in the county. It was the first one about 20 years. Why? Because everyone goes to Pueblo! So, when we go north to the doctors, this skews the statistics. It makes Pueblo look great. All the ‘healthy’ people go out of town. Those in town are visiting the emergency room or use local doctors because they don’t have an HMO or health insurance. Most employers in the county are small businesses. They can’t afford HMOs, and there go those data streams.
Then there are the other demographics. Veterans. By some odd quirk, we simply have lots of veterans living here of all ages. Yes, we have a State Veteran’s Nursing Home here, but that doesn’t account for all of them. Just count the DV license plates at Safeway some afternoon. Furthermore, most go to Denver and Pueblo for health care. That hands the health statistics to Denver.
We also have a very high number of retirees. They either return here because they were born here, or because the cost of living is low. They want to get away from the rush and noise of the urban areas. Once again, many of them use HMOs with offices in Pueblo, Denver or Colorado Springs.
The cost of living is another factor. It is very low in the county. Welfare, Social Security and pensions provide almost as much income as local employers. It is possible to live here for cost of the rent of a house in Denver. 25% of our population lives below the poverty line. Average Median Income is about $31K. This puts many people on Medicaid or Medicare. We all know what that system does to statistics.
There are other things that don’t count when it comes to quality of life and that data set used by the Denver Post article. Clean air, low crime rate, beautiful scenery, decent neighborhoods, and no traffic jams except when there is a train. It isn’t that we don’t have troubles, but compared to Denver or Castle Rock, it’s nothing. Sometimes being on the bottom of the list isn’t such a bad thing.