While incumbents in this year's Utah elections, including Gov. Gary Herbert, like to paint a rosy picture of the state's economic recovery, it's clear there are many Utahns who are not feeling relief.
Two Salt Lake Tribune headlines in the past few days conjure up a quite different image: "One in seven households in the state battles hunger," and "Wages in Utah are down, and poverty up."
Low-income advocates pleaded with Herbert this week to focus on people who will be losing food stamps because a rule limiting the benefits to three months during a 36-month period has been reinstated. They are asking for better job training so they can compete for what jobs exist.
These people are left behind by Herbert's economic development policies because they are undereducated they have no high school diploma or GED and they lack basic computer skills. And they make up a large part of the "one in seven" who cannot feed themselves and their families.
Many are among the thousands of low-income or minority individuals who dropped out of school after lagging behind. Utah's lowest-in-the-nation per-pupil expenditure on public education is the catalyst that leads to such levels of unemployment or underemployment and the resulting poverty and hunger.
Although the governor's response was "... new claims for unemployment benefits continue to trend down," the fact is there are 40,000 fewer jobs in Utah now than there were in 2007.
Eeven those who have jobs have seen their wages decline 15 percent since 2008, and 5.1 percent in the past two years. And the poverty rate in the Beehive State grew to 11 percent in 2011 from 7.6 percent in 2008.
Poverty and unemployment in Utah are below the national rates, it's true, and that is worth noting. But the state's leaders must now also compare the welfare of all Utahns not just those at the high end of the income scale with their more economically healthy state a few years ago. The trend is worrisome.
As University of Utah senior research economist Pam Perlich said, "... there's just an awful lot of households that are in very deep distress right now and just hanging on by a thread." The housing crisis has made even the middle class less financially secure, especially those who owe more on their homes than they are worth.
Utah cannot build a brighter future for the well-off by ignoring those at the bottom.