Weber County launches initiative to break the cycle of poverty in families

Tuesday , May 03, 2016 - 8:06 PM3 comments

CATHY MCKITRICK, Standard-Examiner Staff

OGDEN — Since former state Sen. Stuart Reid successfully spearheaded legislation in 2012 to address intergenerational poverty, significant data has been gathered to identify those at risk and come up with potential solutions.

Some of that data is both surprising and shocking, and was discussed Tuesday by stakeholders gathered at the Weber Center for the launch of Weber County’s Intergenerational Poverty Initiative.

“What we’re tracking and seeing is troubling to say the least,” said Tracy Gruber, director of the Office of Child Care for Utah’s Department of Workforce Services (DWS). “We’re confident that data will help you . . . ensure efficient, effective, equitable and appropriate services to the public. We think that starts with data.”

That data is divided into four areas of child well-being that ensure success into adulthood: education, family economic stability, health and early childhood development.

In Weber County, 37 percent of children living in homes experiencing intergenerational poverty (IGP) are at risk of remaining in poverty as adults. The average annual wages for Weber County adults in IGP is $11,008, lower than the state IGP average of $11,520. The average Utahn earns $42,184 per year, or almost four times as much as those in IGP.

DWS Executive Director Jon Pierpont, who chairs the Intergenerational Poverty Welfare Reform Commission, detailed the difference between situational poverty — which refers to temporary circumstances such as a job loss or divorce that moves families into government assistance — and intergenerational poverty, which is an extended cycle of poverty where children of parents on public assistance grow up and continue to survive on public assistance and raise their own children in a similar environment.

RELATED: Utah poverty report depicts generations of despair

Weber County Commissioner James Ebert said the data speaks for itself, but “what I think we want to remember is that we’re talking about individuals at the end of the day. We are talking about children . . . that will continue to be our primary focus to break this cycle.”

“My job, that I see, is to provide a very stable environment for children to grow up to adulthood so they can start this process of contributing and becoming whole,” Ebert said.

Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox said he has great passion for the issue that impacts both rural communities and inner cities alike.

“Weber County has been recognized for having such a large middle class. Upward mobility in the state of Utah is better than anywhere else in the country,” Cox said, noting that the American dream is still alive here, but there are warning signs that not everyone is able to climb that ladder of success.

“We have to be careful, and if we’re not, there are people missing out, large segments of our society missing out on this dream,” Cox said, sharing his own audacious dream that Republicans and Democrats will stop fighting with each other over “stuff that doesn’t matter” and begin addressing real issues.

“We need the Republicans to start using their hearts a little more, and the Democrats to start using their heads a little more,” Cox said, “and we come together and actually care about people and allow the data to drive us.”

Marlin Jensen, an Ogden attorney, heads Weber County’s IGP Welfare Reform Advisory Committee.

“I’ve always had genuine interest in the underserved portion of our population,” Jensen said. “It’s kind of hard to go to sleep at night with a full stomach realizing that possibly, in our county, 37 percent of our young people do go to bed without a full stomach.”

Jensen envisions Weber’s advisory panel as the group that can put a face on this community challenge, “that gets into the schools and the youth clubs and groups, wherever these good people are to be found, and we come to know them in a personal way and learn about their problems personally as well as statistically.”

“We’ll try to be the boots on the ground to bring all of this together in an effective way, in a way that really will change lives intergenerationally,” Jensen said.

Contact reporter Cathy McKitrick at 801-625-4214 or Follow her on Twitter at @catmck.

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