Number of children living in poverty in Utah continues to rise

Apr 27 2013 - 12:01am

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The number of Utah children living in poverty is continuing to increase, according to the KIDS COUNT 2013 report released this week.

In 2005, 12 percent of all children in Utah lived at or below the federal poverty level. But in 2011 that percentage increased to 16 percent, said Terry Haven, deputy director of Voices for Utah Children and coordinator of the KIDS COUNT project.

The study, which has been released annually for the past 18 years, provides comprehensive data on a wide variety of indicators, including analysis of items ranging from prenatal care to high school graduation. The indicators focus on demographics, health, education and economic security.

Poverty impacts the other areas that mark the well-being of children, Haven said. Those areas include education, graduation rates, teen pregnancies and abuse, she said.

The study looks at data in 2011 -- the latest numbers available.

This year's report also includes the number of adults who live in intergenerational poverty in the state. Those numbers came from a September report by the Department of Workforce Service.

Sen. Stuart Reid, R-Ogden, sponsored a bill in 2012 requiring workforce services to complete a study about intergenerational poverty. This year, he also sponsored a bill that set up a commission of five state agencies and an advisory committee, made up of experts of child poverty. Both groups will gather and review the data about the estimated 50,000 to 70,000 kids caught in the welfare/poverty cycle and then suggest possible interventions.

"We can rescue the children," Reid said.

Reid said there are two types of poverty: The first is situational, where the loss of a job, a divorce or death can cause a temporary economic setback for a person or family requiring public assistance for a short time. The second is intergenerational, where for some reason a family ends up receiving public assistance and the cycle of poverty continues through two or more generations.

"Statistically, children who live in poverty are more likely to fail in school, drop out, have worse health conditions, have a higher rate of crime, alcohol and drug dependency and a high rate of teen pregnancy," Reid said. "They are also more likely to stay on welfare, have children and those children become victims of poverty."

The study went back to 1989, when the state started keeping numbers, said Rick Little, director of research and analysis with the Department of Workforce Services.

What Little found, is children of adults who were receiving public assistance in 1989 are currently receiving public assistance. And now they are parents of teenagers who are having children and on public assistance, he said.

About 33 percent of those receiving public assistance are intergenerational adults, according to the study. About 36,000 children who received public assistance between 1989 and 2008 are now adults receiving public assistance.

Linda Hansen, director of Box Elder Community Pantry, said she is now seeing young adults seeking assistance who once came in with their parents.

"Somebody has got to step in and teach a different way of life," Hansen said. "Mom and Dad learned from Grandpa and Grandma and Grandpa and Grandma learned from the great-grandparents."

Hansen said schools are already working on teaching the importance of education, but it needs to come from another source in order to break the cycle.

"If mom and dad didn't go to college or finish high school, the kids won't," Hansen said.

The Division of Child and Family Services Northern Region Weber County are working with families to get them out of the cycle of poverty, said Laura Knight, a family preservation worker.

The division helps teenagers learn vocational skills, as well as get them into therapy to deal with self-esteem issues, she said.

They also get the teenagers connected to mentors who will be there to guide them later in life in an effort to break the poverty cycle, she said.

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