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80% of Utah’s Piute County residents live in “poverty areas”

A new map of “concentrated poverty” areas in America has one unfortunate, intensely colored spot in Utah: tiny, rural Piute County.

It shows that more than 80 percent of Piute residents live in what the census calls “poverty areas,” where the poverty rate is 20 percent or higher, for data collected between 2008 and 2012.

In 2000, fewer than 10 percent of Piute County residents lived in such poverty areas. Piute County Commissioner Rick Blackwell isn’t surprised that a new census report released on Monday shows such a big, bad change over that decade.

“That’s when the recession hit, so tourism was way down,” he notes. The county has no other big industry besides agriculture, and “it has been on hard times.”

Also, farms bring in transient workers who don’t make much money. So dividing all that among Piute’s small population of 1,550 people makes for an area of apparent concentrated poverty.

“Everybody who lives here really has to sacrifice to be here. With the [low] availability of work, most people have to drive out of the county to Richfield or Panguitch,” Blackwell said. “We love it and that’s why we are here.”

Nationally, the new Census Bureau report says that 25.7 percent of Americans now live in such “poverty areas,” up from less than 18.1 percent in 2000.

In Utah overall, the number of residents living in poverty areas rose to 16.5 percent in 2010, up from 10.5 percent in 2000. The highest such rate among the states was 48.5 percent in Mississippi, while the lowest rate was 6.8 percent in New Hampshire.

“Researchers have found that living in poor neighborhoods adds burdens to low-income families, such as poor housing conditions and fewer job opportunities,” said the report’s author, AlemayehuBishaw.

“Many federal and local government agencies use the Census Bureau’s definition of poverty areas to provide much-needed resources to communities with a large concentration of people in poverty,” she said.

Maps in the report show that most Utah counties have fewer than 10 percent of their population living in such “poverty areas.”

But Beaver and Iron counties have 50 to 79 percent of residents living in those areas. San Juan and Cache have between 25 and 49 percent. And Salt Lake, Utah, Weber, Carbon and Sanpete have between 10 and 24 percent.

The report said that overall in Utah, 76.4 percent of residents live in census tracts where the local poverty rate is less than 15 percent, 13.6 percent live where it is between 15 and 19 percent, 9.3 percent live where it is between 20 and 40 percent and just 0.6 percent live where it is 40 percent or more.

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