Shocking Differences Between Richest and Poorest Places in Colorado

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Colorado is not a level playing field. And the contrast between the richest and poorest parts of the state could hardly be more stark.

Fresh figures from the U.S. Census Bureau's massive American Community Survey, which collected definitive data on a wide range of subjects between 2014 and 2018, illustrate these assertions. The stats, some of which we drew upon for our recent post about how people in Colorado live today, deliver big-picture views, but they also provide the opportunity to drill down into much smaller geographic areas — and the resulting insights can be startling.

To prove this point, we compared information about two very different Colorado zip codes: 80238, which encompasses much of Stapleton and other nearby Denver County neighborhoods, and 81334, the designation for tiny Towaoc (2010 population: 1,087), located on the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe Reservation in Montezuma County. The former topped the 2018 American City Business Journals wealth index as the most affluent zip in the metro area. The latter is identified by as the Colorado zip code with the highest percentage of the population living below the poverty level.

The residents of 81334 face enormous challenges with far fewer resources than their fellow Coloradans living in the 80238. Continue to see what we mean. Note that we've shorthanded the zip codes as Towaoc and Stapleton, respectively.


One of the largest disparities between the zip codes comes down to dollars and cents. The median household income in Towaoc is $27,391, and an estimated 22.4 percent of those households bring home less than $10,000 per year, with only 0.7 percent of residents earning an income over $200,000.

As for Stapleton, the median household income is more than $100,000 greater: $138,580. Only 1.8 percent of households collect less than $10,000 annually, and more than a quarter, 27.7 percent, boast an income that exceeds $200,000.

Women in Towaoc have it harder than men from an income standpoint. Median earnings for a full-time employee there come in at $29,474, but males take home $31,250, as opposed to $28,813 for females. However, the gap is even larger in Stapleton, where median earnings for full-timers are $97,083. Men in the zip code receive a median income of $110,123, while women get $84,757 — more than $25,000 less, or just under what the average woman in Towaoc earns in an entire year.

More problematic distinctions: 91.4 percent of Stapleton households receive earnings, but only 71.5 percent in Towaoc do likewise. It makes sense, then, that more households in Towaoc than in Stapleton receive Social Security: 22.2 percent versus 11.7 percent. But Social Security recipients in Towaoc are sent only $11,923 each year, about half of the $22,060 that similarly situated people in Stapleton receive. Moreover, only 0.7 percent of people in Towaoc get supplementary retirement income from other sources. In Stapleton, 10 percent do.

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A double rainbow over Towaoc, Colorado.

Poverty and participation in government programs

In Towaoc, 31.8 percent of residents are classified as living in poverty. That includes 13.3 percent of those age 65 and older, 30 percent of people between eighteen and 64, and a horrifying 38.5 percent of children under eighteen.

And in Stapleton? Just 3.6 percent of those living there qualify as impoverished: 2.7 percent of 65-or-older residents, 4.1 percent of the 18-64 population and 2.9 percent of children.

Participation in SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) is ultra-rare in Stapleton at just 3.0 percent, but much more common in Towaoc: 16.6 percent.

Health insurance

A serious illness can devastate families living from month to month, and plenty of folks in Towaoc are extremely vulnerable to such circumstances. Only 65.6 percent of residents have health insurance. Furthermore, a mere 23.8 percent of locals carry private coverage; 43.3 percent are supplied by the government. And 28.3 percent of children in the zip code have no health insurance.

It's another world in Stapleton, where 98.8 percent of people have health insurance. Overall, 90.6 percent have private coverage, while 13.1 percent receive insurance from government sources — meaning that plenty of individuals have increased protection by way of multiple policies. And just 0.6 percent of children aren't covered by health insurance.


College is seen as a key to a better life in the United States, but few people in Towaoc have found out if that's true. While 81.2 percent of people age 25 or older in the zip code have at least graduated from high school, just 7.4 percent have a bachelor's degree or more. And the 18.8 percent of those who didn't earn a high school diploma dwarfs the 0.4 percent from Stapleton in the same situation.

Most of the 99.6 percent of 25-or-older Stapletonians who graduated from high school didn't stop there; 81.2 percent received a bachelor's degree or higher.

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Stapleton from the air.

Computer and Internet use

Access to computers and high-speed Internet is absolutely vital in today's world. But the availability of these tools is extremely limited in Towaoc, where only 75.4 percent of households have a computer and just 30.6 percent benefit from a broadband Internet subscription.

More Towaoc numbers that astonish in this day and age: 34.1 percent of households have a desktop or laptop computer, 62.5 percent have a smartphone and 40.3 percent have a tablet. Beyond that, 25.7 percent have a cellular data plan, 16 percent have cable, fiber optic or DSL, and 1.7 percent have a satellite Internet subscription.

Stapleton, for its part, is totally wired: 98.9 percent of households have a computer, 96 percent get broadband, 96.1 percent sport a desktop or laptop, 93.6 percent possess a smartphone, 77.8 percent include a tablet or other portable wireless computer, and 5.4 percent claim "some other computer," unlike every person in Towaoc, where the percentage in that category is 0.

Housing characteristics

Towaoc isn't experiencing a building boom, given that only 1.1 percent of housing inventory has been built since 2010. In Stapleton, that number is 43 percent.

The median property value for owner-occupied houses in Towaoc stands at $155,100, resulting in monthly housing costs for residents with a mortgage of $800 and $236 for people without one. The media gross rent for a house in town is $360.

These are bargains, right? By Denver standards, certainly — but 50 percent of Towaoc owners with a mortgage, 17 percent of owners without a mortgage and 24 percent of renters are considered cost-burdened, meaning they pay 30 percent or more of their income on housing costs alone.

The prices are much higher in Stapleton, where the median property value for an owner-occupied house is $551,800, resulting in average monthly costs of $2,527 for people with a mortgage and $643 without. Renter-occupied houses cost $1,817 per month.

Nonetheless, only 15.3 percent of Stapleton owners with a mortgage and 6.7 percent without are designated as cost-burdened — though this situation is being experienced by 45.4 percent of Stapleton renters, putting them in a numerically worse situation than their peers in Towaoc.

They're the only ones.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts

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