More Utah families slipped into poverty last year, but that wasn't reflected in the estimated number of households receiving cash help from the government.
An analysis of American Community Survey data released by the U.S. Census Bureau on Thursday found about 3.3 million households nationwide received public assistance in 2010, an increase of about 300,000 households from 2009. The analysis looked only at cash assistance, not such benefits as Supplemental Security Income or food stamps. Participation rates increased in 14 states, decreased in 25 and stayed flat in another 11 states including Utah.
That is likely because of Utah's three-year, lifetime limit on welfare through the general assistance and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families [TANF] programs, said Terry Haven, Kids Count director at Voices for Utah Children. While federal law sets a 60-month, lifetime limit on cash assistance, states can set shorter limits or no time frame. In Utah, the limit is 36 months.
The census said 21,472 households in Utah received public assistance during 2010, which was not statistically different from the count in 2009.
"While there might still be a need for TANF, they aren't eligible for it any more, so you see some churning, people going off, people coming on," Haven said. "If you let people stay on who need it, you might see some rise in those figures."
Nationally, the poverty rate last year was 15.3 percent 46.2 million people the highest it has been since 1959, according to the American Community Survey, which more closely examined state trends than a different Census survey released this past month. The number and percentage of people in poverty increased in 32 states between 2009 and 2010, the Census said. Rates ranged from a low of 8.3 percent in New Hampshire to a high of 22.4 percent in Mississippi. The survey also included data for Puerto Rico, which had a poverty rate of 45 percent.
The survey found 13.2 percent of Utahns 359,242 people were below the poverty line in 2010, which for a family of four is less than $22,314. Tracy Gruber, a policy analyst with Voices for Utah Children, said high rates of poverty are found in both rural and urban parts of the state.
The economic situation has worsened for children in particular, she said. The child poverty rate in Utah is just under 16 percent, or 135,565 children. In Washington County, nearly 21 percent of children live in poverty; in Cache and Weber counties, 18 percent of children are in poverty.
"The increase in poverty rates amongst children can be directly linked to the difficulties in the labor market for their parents," Gruber said. "Programs such as health care, education and extension of unemployment insurance will help minimize the long-term impact the recession is expected to have on our state's economy and our most vital future economic resource our children."
The nonprofit organization suggested in a report it released Thursday that a "proven method" for stimulating demand throughout the economy is to adequately fund programs that support families experiencing economic hardship.
"When state programs help families pay for basic necessities, like food, transportation and medical care, jobs are created in the communities where these families live," according to Gruber and Allison Rowland, co-authors of "The State of Working Utah 2011."
Children and poverty
The percentage of children in poverty in 2010 in Utah was 15.5 percent. In the six largest counties it was:
Cache County • 18.3 percent
Davis County • 10.2 percent
Salt Lake County • 17.4 percent
Utah County • 12.3 percent
Washington County • 20.5 percent
Weber County • 17.9 percent
Source: American Community Survey