Officially, the Great Recession is over, but that doesn't mean all is well locally.
Signs are mixed. Gas prices are low. The city's unemployment rate stood at 5.1 percent in November. (Statewide, it was 4.1 percent.) Foreclosures in El Paso County are down 2 percent from last year, but are still much higher than other Colorado metro counties (Douglas County, for instance, dropped its foreclosures by 44 percent). Perhaps one of the best measures of how we're doing is how hungry we are. Food assistance is often sought by the struggling working poor.
Consider: Roughly 80 percent of county families on food assistance have work income of some kind; 65 to 70 percent of the people who grab a meal at Catholic Charities of Central Colorado's Marian House Soup Kitchen are not homeless; the main breadwinner in 82 percent of families who get help from Care and Share Food Bank for Southern Colorado had worked for pay in the last four weeks.
The main cause of hunger is pretty straightforward: People aren't making enough money to make ends meet. But we wanted to look at other factors that can also play a role.
First, in many parts of the country, the poor, who often don't own a car, live far away from the nearest grocery store. In these areas — which are called "food deserts" — the poor often rely on more-expensive food from convenience stores, which can stress a tight budget. As the map below shows, that could be a factor in some areas.
Second, a spike in grocery costs can throw off budgets. The Consumer Price Index, which is a measure of inflation, tracks the cost of basic foods in communities (the nearest area to us is the Denver-Boulder-Greeley index) to see the percentage change in costs year to year. The 1982-84 time frame is the baseline cost or "100." As you can see in the graph below, the local grocery index is now in the "200s" and has continued to climb steadily.