Understanding Utah’s Annual Report on Intergenerational Poverty, Welfare Dependency and the Use of Public Assistance

tracyTracy S. Gruber, JD
Director of the Office of Child Care
Senior Advisor of the Intergenerational Poverty Initiative
Department of Workforce Services

Utah’s economy is in an incredibly strong position with its low unemployment rate and strong, diverse job growth. However, challenges remain for families struggling to emerge from poverty. Utah’s child poverty rate remains virtually unchanged since the end of the Great Recession despite the state’s strong economy.

These lingering economic challenges, which potentially jeopardize Utah’s future economic growth if left unaddressed, led to the adoption of Utah’s Intergenerational Poverty Mitigation Act. The primary goal of the Act is to measurably reduce the incidence of Utah children experiencing intergenerational poverty and welfare dependency, as they become adults. It also requires the Department of Workforce Services to release an annual report regarding individuals experiencing intergenerational poverty and welfare dependency so that programs and policies serving children are driven by data.

Recently, DWS released Utah’s Fourth Annual Report on Intergenerational Poverty, Welfare Dependency and the Use of Public Assistance. The report provides an update on the status of families experiencing intergenerational poverty with particular emphasis on children. The level of research and analysis contained in the report is unprecedented. It reflects a collaborative effort among the primary state agencies serving the needs of families to determine how issues such as childhood abuse and neglect and educational outcomes correlate with entrenched poverty.

The report focuses on four areas of child well-being, which form the foundation for a child’s success in adulthood: early childhood development, education, family economic stability and health. In the 2015 report, the data reveals significant challenges and barriers for children in each of these areas that policymakers, business leaders, local government officials and community-based organizations should consider addressing.

  • One in four adults utilizing public assistance received it as children, for at least twelve months.
  • 31 percent of Utah children are at risk of remaining in poverty as adults.
  • Students at risk of remaining in poverty experience poor academic outcomes, as measured by proficiency rates in reading and math.
  • Only 57 percent of children experiencing intergenerational poverty are graduating from high school compared to 81 percent, statewide.
  • 26 percent of children and 29 percent of their parents were victims of childhood abuse and neglect.

Although this data is sobering, efforts are already taking place in Utah communities to address the needs of these children. An example of these efforts is occurring in Kearns community the Department of Workforce Services joining forces with United Way of Salt Lake, Salt Lake County, Granite School District and leaders in the Kearns to improve outcomes for children. Each of the partners in this effort is utilizing data research to improve service delivery to the families in Kearns. DWS is focusing its efforts on serving families experiencing intergenerational poverty at Kearns Junior High School through its “Next Generation Kids” test program. This program relies on all of the partners involved to connect parents to employment and job training, while assisting those parents in meeting the basic needs of their children.

The next step is to take this data into the local communities throughout Utah, aligning key players from different levels of government, the private sector, and the nonprofit world. This alignment of community leaders will help guide decision-making at the local level, to make a tangible difference in the lives of Utahns experiencing intergenerational poverty.

The data and research provided by DWS is a start to addressing this challenging issue for over 280,000 Utah children. Communities are encouraged to understand the impact of this issue for their children and work to provide them with the opportunity to become successful adults.

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