Utah poverty study shows school key to breaking cycle
By Christopher Smart
The Salt Lake TribuneFirst published Oct 03 2013 06:29PM
Education is one prime ingredient in any formula to break the cycle of poverty that can follow a family from generation to generation, new Utah data indicates.
A report on poverty and public assistance published Thursday reveals, for example, that less than 1 percent of those trapped in intergenerational poverty earned a college degree. The state average, by contrast, is 19.5 percent.
Education is key to interrupting the cycle, said Jon Pierpont, executive director of the Utah Department of Workforce Services. So the question for leaders to answer is: "What do we do policy-wise for the children being born into this situation" to ensure a good education?
The facts and figures being collected in the second year of the ongoing study "Intergenerational Poverty, Welfare Dependency and the Use of Public Assistance in Utah" are aimed ultimately at helping come up with those policy solutions.
"We are the only state in the country doing this," Pierpont said. "We are learning what it will take to break the cycle of poverty."
According to Carrie Mayne, chief economist for Workforce Services, the study defined those stuck in "intergenerational" poverty as people who received 12 months or more of any kind of public assistance as children and at least 12 months of public assistance as adults. Typically, a 40-year-old adult in the category would have received public assistance for 11.9 years.
Some 13.6 percent — or 382,750 — of Utah’s 2.8 million residents live in poverty, according to federal guidelines. The study identified that nearly one of 10 of those — 36,500 — are people in intergenerational poverty.
Utahns fitting that category were compared to others who received some public assistance, but for less than 12 months, and to Utah’s population as a whole. Some of the results are revealing.
Those on public assistance work when they can find jobs, according to the study. And folks in the intergenerational poverty group worked more often than others who applied for public assistance. But when the economy dropped in 2009, the intergenerational poverty group lost more jobs, Mayne said.
That may be the impact of their relative lack of training, she said.
The intergenerational poverty group earned 24 percent less on average than others who received some public assistance, according to the report.
The data reveals that intergenerational poverty is a statewide problem, said Joseph Demma, the agency’s communications director. "It shines a light on who they are, where they are, and how they got there."
The study does not suggest enhancing or cutting benefits. "It’s not part of a political agenda," said Demma. "It’s aimed at getting folks to independence. The goal is something everyone can agree upon."