This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2015, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Utah continues to garner attention from national leaders in Washington D.C. The U.S. Senate Committee on Finance asked for testimony last week from Utah's Department of Workforce Services about Utah's efforts to help families overcome poverty.
We live in a prosperous state, yet some Utah families struggle to reap the full benefits of the rising tide of economic opportunity. Our nationally acclaimed economic expansion is helping families overcome situational poverty a temporary condition caused perhaps by losing a job or a medical crisis. But a far more entrenched form of economic hardship is intergenerational poverty, and it exhibits patterns from one generation to the next that make it a much more persistent problem. This was the focus of the discussion with senators in Washington last Thursday.
Though families experiencing intergenerational poverty seem less affected by our economic growth, it is precisely because of our economic strength that we can turn greater attention to breaking out of this cycle of poverty.
One out of every four adults receiving public assistance in Utah today also received it when they were children. Nearly one-third of Utah children today are at risk of remaining in poverty as they grow up. If this pattern of poverty and reliance on public assistance isn't altered, then thousands of our current and future citizens will not realize their full potential. This lost human capital is a human tragedy and not something we can afford if we want to take our economy to the next level and continue to prosper.
The state is extensively studying this issue through intensive research. Four key focus areas have shown to have the greatest impact on child well-being: early childhood development, education, family health, and family economic stability. Here are the facts:
We know nearly 75 percent of the adults experiencing intergenerational poverty lack an education beyond high school. We know these families move much more frequently and, even though 61 percent of them work, they earn far too little to adequately support a family.
We know these families face daunting challenges, but we also know there are pathways to a better life.
We know a two-generation model that addresses both parent and child simultaneously is a better approach. We know that connecting low-skill workers with educational resources and short term job-training programs in high demand fields yields better earnings. And, we know that access to high-quality child care while parents are pursuing education or employment better prepares children for kindergarten.
These efforts are ongoing, and the additional data and research helps state agencies refine their programs and improve their services. But simply knowing what works isn't enough.
Leaders in communities all across Utah must come together now and provide a pathway out of poverty for these families. We need elected officials, religious leaders, business owners, academic experts, and non-profit organizations to focus on successful outcomes. We need local leaders to use data to inform decision making at every level.
When government agencies, community advocates, and state legislators join forces with other community leaders, you have the key ingredients to make a meaningful difference. And when national leaders show interest in yet another Utah innovation, we know that our own laboratory of democracy here in the west has a chance to be a policy leader for the nation.
Our strong economy offers a solid foundation with substantial opportunities to help these families. We have an unprecedented body of research to foster informed decisions at all levels of government. And we have the unique opportunity to help thousands of Utah parents and children climb out of the generational cycle of poverty, and reach their greatest potential as human beings. Let's get it done.
Natalie Gochnour is associate dean in the David Eccles School of Business and director of the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute at the University of Utah. Jon S. Pierpont is executive director of the Utah Department of Workforce Services and chair of the Intergenerational Welfare Reform Commission.