Childhood poverty continues to decline modestly in Utah, according to a state evaluation, but intergenerational poverty, in which two or more generations remain at low-income levels, remains stagnant.
In 2016, 39,376 adults and 59,579 children were in intergenerational poverty, according to the state’s sixth annual Intergenerational Poverty Report released Monday.
In the past year, however, there were signs of improvement for families experiencing poverty.
For children, educational outcomes improved. High school graduation rates improved from 50 percent to 63 percent from 2013 to 2016, the report said.
Among their parents, there are signs that Utah’s economy and efforts to provide workforce development services are leading to improvements in family economic stability.
About 15 percent of adults experiencing intergenerational poverty in 2015 had moved out of that designation in 2016. And during that period, the rate of parents in intergenerational poverty who lacked jobs decreased from 21 percent to 18 percent.
But challenges remain. The average annual wage for adults in intergenerational poverty increased between 2013 and 2016 from $10,701 to only $12,621.
The annual report focuses on families and children in an effort to gather data to aid policymakers in targeting resources specifically to the issues presented by poverty, said Tracy Gruber, senior adviser for the Intergenerational Poverty initiative.
It found, among other things, that significant strides are being made in early childhood development, education, health and economic stability.
“Children in poverty are more likely to experience developmental setbacks that follow them throughout their life,” the report said. “Increased investments in early childhood development are impacting young children experiencing poverty.”
In Utah, more youngsters now have access to high-quality preschool made possible by state scholarships. Child care and preschool make a significant difference on the ability for a child to graduate from high school.
“Challenges start to emerge early and continue to build for children who don’t receive [early education],” Gruber said.
Health care for children also is a significant factor for those seeking to break the poverty cycle. The report highlights early childhood health and the lasting implications it has on brain development.
Some 94 percent of children in intergenerational poverty have health care access through Medicaid or Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), the report said. Many, however, don’t take advantage of those programs.
Education and health care also are important for parents wishing to escape poverty.
“Kids aren’t the ones who are poor,” Gruber said. “But they are dependent on their parents.”
A significant number of parents in that group lacks a high school education, which often leads to a lifetime of poverty.
And if parents lack access to health care and, in some cases, behavior health care for substance abuse disorders, the report said it can be harmful to the development of their children.
“Unfortunately, in many families experiencing intergenerational poverty, there are greater rates of child abuse and neglect compared to Utah’s statewide rates for such cases,” the report said.
About 27 percent of youths ages 10-17 in intergenerational poverty are involved with the juvenile justice system in 2016 — down from 30 percent in 2013.
Utah is the only state that mandates research on intergenerational poverty. In 2012, the Utah Legislature adopted the Intergenerational Poverty Mitigation Act.
The law created the Intergenerational Welfare Reform Commission, requiring the Department of Workforce Services to combine efforts with other state agencies to measurably reduce the incidence of children who remain in poverty as they become adults.
The intergenerational poverty initiative is a long-term effort to build on successes while reducing the gaps, Gruber said.
“Poverty is a complex problem without easy solutions,” Gruber said. “Everybody wants a silver bullet, but there is no easy solution.”