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Isabell Archuleta of Kearns is in the third generation of a family living in poverty. Her sons, Juelz, 4, and Marcelo, 6, are the fourth. But Archuleta is confident she is about to break the cycle for generations to come.
"I've started to go back to school to become a teacher," she said. "I think my sons seeing me go to college will make them want to do the same thing."
She said the Next Generation Kids program of the Utah Department of Workforce Services (DWS) helps her find solutions on everything from nutrition to child care and preschool. "It has given me a little bit more support and someone to talk to." And after seeing her example, others in her family have entered college, too.
A new state report says that while such success stories are increasing, Utah still has far to go.
So many Utah children are caught in the cycle of intergenerational poverty that they could fill 1,611 school buses, says the state's fifth annual report on the topic. Those 57,602 children also are roughly equivalent to the population of Lehi, the center of the state's touted Silicon Slopes.
Worse, about a third of the children in Utah are at risk to live in poverty as adults, according to the report.
"That means they have been on public assistance for at least one year," says Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, chairman of the Utah Intergenerational Welfare Reform Commission. "That's about 290,000 children."
The commission and its report are calling for breaking the cycle of poverty by focusing on those poor children, and ensuring they have nutrition, early education, health care and safe environments needed to escape it.
Jon Pierpont, executive director of DWS, said the income of families in intergenerational poverty has increased in the past two years from an average $11,500 a year to $13,500.
"That's pretty low," he said. Still, "It shows some progress being made in regards to engagement and year-round employment for these families."
The report said many of those children and their parents now lack necessary building blocks for the future because of economic hardship.
Their challenges are complex, notes the report, and "lack an easy, silver-bullet solution. These challenges include poor educational outcomes, anti-social behavior, delinquency, early pregnancy, drug addiction, and behavioral and mental health struggles."
The report provides an update on families receiving public assistance, the programs designed to help them and highlights some successful steps.
"We're very proud to be really leading the nation in this data-driven effort to understand the impacts and effects of public assistance on families over generations," Cox said. "The things we are learning are concerning, but also give us hope as we work with our local communities to look for solutions for the future."
As part of the update, the study warned that children living in intergenerational poverty perform relatively poorly in school, raising worries about their future.
For example, just 19 percent of students in intergenerational poverty were proficient in third-grade language arts, compared to 44 percent of all third-graders statewide.
Also, 12 percent of students in intergenerational poverty were proficient in eighth-grade math, compared to 37 percent of all Utah eighth-graders.
The study said research shows that optional all-day kindergarten programs address academic gaps experienced by children in poverty, but few at-risk students participate in them. It noted that the Legislature this year considered increasing availability of all-day kindergarten, but the effort failed.
A bright spot is that 72 percent of the schools with 10 percent or more of their students experiencing intergenerational poverty offer an optional extended-day kindergarten.
The study also said that while preschool often helps low-income children bridge gaps with their wealthier peers, only 41 percent of Utah's 3- and 4-year-olds are enrolled.
Fewer than half 44 percent of the state's public elementary schools offer some type of preschool program. But among schools where at least 10 percent of students are in intergenerational poverty, 63 percent offer a preschool program.
The study also said because of increased state investment, 98 preschool classrooms, serving 3,155 low-income children, received funds to improve quality since 2014.
Meanwhile, children in intergenerational poverty are not receiving the health, dental and mental health care needed to ensure healthy development, the study said.
While 94 percent of these youngsters have access to health care through Medicaid or the Children's Health Insurance Program, they still have a low rate of regular doctor visits. Instead, it said 28 percent of them who are Medicaid enrollees visited an emergency room at least once compared to only 17 percent of other enrollees.
A family's economic stability is "an integral part of ending the cycle of poverty," the report said. But underemployment is prevalent among families in intergenerational poverty.
Some 72 percent of adults in intergenerational poverty lack education beyond high school, compared to 32 percent statewide, according to the report. About 62 percent of adults in intergenerational poverty had some employment during 2015.
A third of adults in intergenerational poverty are paying more than 50 percent of their income for housing, the study said, leaving little for food, clothing and transportation.