This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2005, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Her two kids have never been on a family vacation, but a summer never goes by that Andrea Pearson doesn't dream about taking them to Disneyland.
The 37-year-old single mom says the tight family budget does not allow her to save for "the extra fun stuff," such as a day at Lagoon amusement park. Even with the help of government programs, it's still difficult for her to pay bills and buy school clothes with her $11-an-hour job as a Salt Lake County employee.
"It can be sad sometimes always being at home," says Pearson, who has an associate's degree. "But, we're grateful. We have a home and food."
The Pearson family is one of thousands of Utah households in which folks are working, but they live paycheck to paycheck, paying the electricity bill and not the gas and hoping it doesn't get disconnected.
Even though Utah is experiencing an increase in jobs, its poverty rate also is increasing because there is a decline in wages and benefits, say Utah Issues advocates.
Utah Issues, a nonprofit organization that studies and advocates on social issues, released a report today called "The State of Working Utah 2005," which explores how the "recent economic growth has not translated into a substantial improvement in the lives of working Utahns."
Sarah Wilhelm, the organization's director of fiscal analysis, says stereotypes that poor people don't want to work or don't do anything to improve their lives are not true. Roughly 75 percent of poor Utah families have at least one working person in the home, she says.
"It's frustrating that people are working very hard, playing by the rules and still not being able to make ends meet," says Wilhelm.
In 1999-2000, the poverty rate in Utah was 7 percent. It increased to 10 percent in 2003-2004, according to the report. The federal poverty guideline for a family of four people is $18,850 a year.
Utah's poverty rate increase can partly be blamed on the minimum wage of $5.15 an hour, which is determined by the federal government but can be increased by the states, Wilhelm says. The group is pushing the state to increase the minimum wage.
Utah's low wages go hand-in-hand with the unemployment rate, Wilhelm says. Companies statewide can pay low wages because so many people are looking for jobs, she says.
Nationally, the unemployment rate slowly has been decreasing since late 2001. In Utah, the unemployment rate was 4.7 percent in June, compared to 4.8 percent in June 2004. In February 2001, the state's unemployment rate was 3.8 percent, Wilhelm says.
But, Wilhelm says, unemployment figures don't include those people who were unemployed but stopped looking for work because they were "discouraged." She's also concerned that government programs might be cut because statistics show that the economy looks good and people are working.
"People are giving up," Wilhelm says.
Karina Villalba, a 30-year-old single mother of two children, says she's always been able to find a job, but she's never been able to find one that pays a living wage. Her monthly household budget of about $2,000 is "suffocating," and more than half of it is used on rent and groceries. She doesn't qualify for food stamps or health insurance for her children - an 11-year-old daughter and 14-year-old son - so she's happy if they have extra money to rent movies or buy "good groceries," such as meats and fresh vegetables.
"You chase bills at certain times. You try to maintain them so nothing gets turned off," she says. "It's hard not making enough to live on."
For Pearson, the only way she's able to rent a house and have health insurance for her kids is because of government assistance.
Since she doesn't get any child support, Pearson says she and her kids - a 15-year-old son and 12-year-old daughter - have learned how to survive and somehow pay the bills.
"I'm very proud that I've been successful and I can meet my obligations," she says. "We budget. We save until we can get what we want."
Did you know?
* More than 70 percent of workers do not earn enough to support a family with one working parent.
* About 30 percent of workers earn a wage that leaves them below the poverty level.
* About 70 percent of people with disabilities are unemployed.
* The poverty rate in Utah was 6.7 percent in 1999-2000. In 2003-04, the poverty rate was 9.5 percent.
* The average family size in Utah is 3.6 people.
* A "typical poor person" in Utah is Anglo and is a member of a two-parent, working family.
* The federal poverty guideline for a family of four people is $18,850 a year - or $1,571 a month.
Source: Utah Issues Center
for Poverty Research & Action