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Poorest Utahns repeating cycle lived by parents, grandparents

Published September 28, 2012 3:49 pm

Study • State seeking solutions to help generations of Utah families reliant on public assistance.
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Utah's poorest families are often falling into a difficult but familiar lifestyle: Close to one-third of Utahns who have incomes below the federal poverty line represent the second or third generations within their families to survive via government assistance.

Many who have scraped by with the help of food stamps and other public assistance watched their parents or grandparents do the same, according to "Intergenerational Poverty in Utah 2012," a report released Friday by the state's Department of Workforce Services.

Rick Little, director of workforce research and analysis for DWS, compiled the 30-page study over the past three months by gathering administrative data on clients, now ages 21 to 40, who received public assistance between 1989 and 2008.

Little also relied on recent census numbers to determine the larger Utah population with incomes below the poverty level who have not accessed food stamps, Medicaid and other public assistance programs.

"The report helps us identify that segment in poverty today who are not situational, they're not temporarily there," Little said. "They're the most chronic, attached through generations to public assistance programs."

The 30-page document was commissioned by SB37, legislation sponsored by Sen. Stuart Reid, R-Ogden and passed by state lawmakers earlier this year. While situational poverty can be traced to a specific incident or rough patch in someone's life, intergenerational poverty is cyclical and refers to ongoing factors that continue to fester unless outside intervention occurs.

According to the report, about 36,000 adults on public assistance, ages 21 to 40, grew up on welfare and are receiving public assistance as adults. About one in 24 Utahns within that age group fall into the intergenerational category.

About 24,000, or two-thirds of those "second-generation" adults, now have offspring of their own — those are the 51,000 children who make up Utah's third generation on public assistance.

Of intergenerational females between the ages of 13 to 17, the study found that one in 20 were pregnant in 2012. Babies born to those teenagers will become the fourth generation from their family to use public assistance.

The report notes that women are almost twice as likely to fall into intergenerational poverty as men.

"The female is usually the custodial parent, and most have children," Little said. "In contrast, only 29 percent of intergenerational men are fathers," Little said, noting that those fathers average one child each.

Little determined that 81 percent of the females ages 21 to 40 are mothers who have an average of two children.

The study examined an education gap among the poor, with one-third of intergenerational aid recipients failing to complete high school or the equivalent, and the rest having no post-secondary education. Work histories showed mostly low-wage jobs.

The logging of comprehensive state data began in 1989 when Utah's Workforce Services began using a computerized case management system.

"If adults are older than 40, I can't see their childhood experience in public assistance," Little said. "As years go by we'll be able to increase that age because we'll have the data."

The report does not include information about adults receiving aid who moved to Utah from out of state.

Jon Pierpont, acting executive director for DWS, said the information will be used to identify plans and programs to end the cycle of poverty.

"It's a great inaugural report in that it will guide our thinking and our work in the months to come," Pierpont said.

Little will present the report's findings to child advocates and community stakeholders on Oct. 9 during a conference titled "A Common Foundation: Creating Opportunity for the Next Generation."

Pierpont said that solutions to chronic poverty should be collaborative in nature, extending beyond the walls of his agency.

"We see this as a joint effort with the entire community — advocates and all stakeholders who want to be a part of creating solutions," Pierpont said.

Both Pierpont and Little view the report as progress.

"Approaches in the past have tended to be one-size-fits-all," Little said. "This is an opportunity for us to examine those that are a part of this population and to target services so that they're more effective. I think its going to help us work smarter."

cmckitrick@sltrib.comTwitter: @catmck —

By the numbers: Intergenerational poverty

36,000 • adults, ages 21 to 40, on public assistance who were children on welfare between 1989 and 2008

51,000 • about two-thirds of those "second-generation" adults now have children who make up the third generation receiving public assistance.

One in 20 • intergenerational teen girls, ages 13 to 17, were pregnant in 2012. Their babies will be the fourth generation on public assistance.

Source: Intergenerational Poverty in Utah 2012 / Department of Workforce Services




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