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Food stamp use appears to have risen in polygamous community

Published May 2, 2013 9:56 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

One of the things I've heard from time to time since on the polygamy beat is polygamists suck public resources in the form of welfare.

I'm not sure how widely this topic is actually debated — I had never heard it until I started this beat, for example — but I've become increasingly curious about how true it might be.

Wanting to know more, I also contacted Nick Dunn at the Utah Department of Workforce Services. He told me Wednesday that for the 12 months that started April 1, 2012, an average of 1,689 people per month have used food stamps in Hildale.

The 2010 census listed Hildale with a population of 2,726.

Viewed another way, Dunn said there were 185 food stamp cases in Hildale for that time period. A family may have five people on food stamps but is counted as only one case.

That would indicate there has been a big jump in public assistance in Hildale the last few years. The Tribune's Brooke Adams reported Hildale had an average of 75 food stamp cases a month for a stretch of time in 2007 and 2008.

Colorado City, Ariz., averaged 207 food stamp cases between March 2007 and March 2008, Adams reported. I have calls out to find current Colorado City data.

There are other ways to approach this topic. One good, easy starting point is to look at census data, as we did for this post on population size.

But magazine Slate magazine recently offered another tool for our data mining belts: a widget showing how many people use food stamps in any given community.

The tool only displays county data, so when I put Hildale into the tool I discovered that 9 percent of the population in Washington County is using food stamps. That amounts to 11,958 people and a 94-percent increase since 2000.

When I checked for neighboring Colorado City. I learned that in Mohave County 21 percent of the population — or 42,786 people — uses food stamps. That's 181 percent growth since 2000.

By way of comparison, the Slate tool shows that 81,351 people, or 8 percent of the population, use food stamps in Salt Lake County. In Utah and Weber counties, 6 and 9 percent of the population, respectively, uses food stamps.

Obviously, I chose to run the numbers on Washington and Mohave counties because they have comparatively large polygamous populations. Those populations also presumably represent a larger share of the overall population than in places like Salt Lake City, which also has many people practicing polygamy.

There are other government programs and means to help measure the use of welfare and public assistance. A 1998 Tribune investigation looked at some of those other gauges. A link to the article is long gone, but we posted a copy on our Scribd account.

So does the food stamp information support or refute the argument that polygamy drains public resources? Probably neither, especially because the tool can only look broadly at counties, rather than at specific municipalities or neighborhoods — let alone any particular group of people.

But I think it's still useful for people interested in an increasingly complex understanding of polygamous communities, especially when it's used in conjunction with the array of other available resources on this topic.

— Jim Dalrymple II

Twitter: @tribunepolygamy