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Colorado Economic Comeback Not as Strong as Advertised

Shoppers near American Eagle Outfitters at Colorado Mills last month.EXPAND
Shoppers near American Eagle Outfitters at Colorado Mills last month.
Photo by Michael Roberts
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Governor Jared Polis and other officials have frequently touted Colorado's economic bounceback following the springtime stay-at-home order triggered by the spread of COVID-19. But new data from the U.S. Census Bureau suggests that the recovery hasn't been as robust as advertised, with Colorado lagging behind many other states in an important metric during the first six months of the pandemic.

That category is monthly state retail sales. The bureau just released figures for August, the most recent period for which statistics are available, and they indicate that retail sales in Colorado fell by 2.5 percent from the same month a year earlier. As seen in the graphic below, well over half the states actually registered better sales in August 2020 than during August 2019, and plenty of others saw declines smaller than the one suffered by Colorado.

Stats collected from March, when the first case of the novel coronavirus was confirmed in Colorado, up to August paint a similar portrait. The state didn't suffer the most severe declines in America, but neither is it leading the way toward a brighter economic future.

Here's the six-month rundown according to the U.S. Census Bureau:

The U.S. Census monthly retail sales graphic for August 2020. Blue states showed sales increases year over year, while those in shades of brown, including Colorado, experienced declines.
The U.S. Census monthly retail sales graphic for August 2020. Blue states showed sales increases year over year, while those in shades of brown, including Colorado, experienced declines.

March 2020: Colorado retail sales decreased 4.3 percent

Only two states and the District of Columbia saw retail sale increases in March. Vermont led the way with a 3.4 percent boost. For its part, Colorado was in the middle of the pack in terms of sale slides. The worst was Hawaii, down 11.3 percent, followed by Pennsylvania (9.6 percent), Texas and Arizona (9 percent) and California (8.8 percent).

April 2020: Colorado retail sales decreased 20 percent

The bulk of the economic damage done by the stay-at-home order hit Colorado and other states across the country in April. Only one state saw a sales increase: Mississippi, which managed a 4 percent climb in part by pretty much ignoring most safety protocols. Colorado was far from the hardest-hit state, however. Greater declines were felt in places that rely even more heavily on tourists, led by Hawaii (down 31.8 percent), California (28.8 percent), New York (27.6 percent) and Alaska (27.0 percent).

May 2020: Colorado retail sales decreased 4.3 percent

Fourteen states registered retail sales increases over May 2019, led by areas in the South, West and Mountain West that opted for short-term gain over long-term pain. Mississippi notched a 15.8 percent jump, the highest of the month, and Montana, Wyoming and South Dakota also landed in positive territory. Colorado's dip, meanwhile, was less severe than in about half of the county's states. Suffering the most brutal blows were New York (down 18.3 percent) and California (16.8 percent).

June 2020: Colorado retail sales increased 5.5 percent

This is the point that marked Colorado's initial rebound, and it wasn't alone; only New York (down 5.2 percent) and the District of Columbia saw June decreases. But twenty-plus states outdistanced Colorado — among them Montana (a 10.4 percent boost), Wyoming (10.1 percent) and Kansas (8.9 percent).

July 2020: Colorado retail sales increased 2.1 percent

The rate of retail sales growth in Colorado actually slowed during a period when it was picking up in most other places. Three states saw decreases in July; Hawaii was the largest, at 5.1 percent. But Colorado's improvement was among the smallest of the other states and Washington, D.C. Safety scofflaw Mississippi again led the way with an 11.7 percent leap, but New York added 7 percent, Wyoming 4.9 percent and Idaho 3.9 percent.

August 2020: Colorado retail sales decreased 2.5 percent

Colorado was among seventeen states and the District of Columbia to see retail sales dives in August. The other 32 states enjoyed increases — more evidence undermining the narrative about a stronger-than-expected Colorado comeback that should become even clearer when the Census Bureau issues numbers for September, October, November and beyond.

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