What our highest priority should be is rescuing children out of poverty. —Sen. Stuart Reid, R-Ogden
SALT LAKE CITY — Intergenerational poverty is a "societal sin of the worst kind," Sen. Stuart Reid, R-Ogden, said Wednesday.
"What our highest priority should be is rescuing children out of poverty," he said. "We are essentially condemning these children, victimizing these children throughout their lives to have a life of despair and dependency, which they then pass on to their children."
Reid's remarks came after lawmakers in the Economic Development and Workforce Services Interim Committee were presented with a report on intergenerational poverty by the Department of Workforce Services. The report was made in compliance with SB37 — sponsored by Reid and passed during the 2012 legislative session — which directs the DWS to establish and maintain a system to track poverty in the state.
According to the report, there are 364,833 individuals living in poverty in Utah, or 13.2 percent of the state's population. The number of individuals under the age of 18 who live in poverty is 136,751, just under 16 percent of the state's child population.
Rick Little, director of research and analysis for DWS, said Utah has the 18th-best poverty rate in the nation and 12th-best in terms of child poverty. But he said the number of individuals in poverty has steadily risen in Utah since 2000 and data shows the problem is being passed down through familial generations.
"It's an issue of great concern," he said. "This is not a problem unique to just the Wasatch Front. This is a problem that is found in every community."
Little shared a number of statistics concerning "intergenerational adults" that could be used to break the poverty cycle. He said most intergenerational adults are unmarried women with children and one-third have not completed a high school diploma or GED.
Intergenerational adults with work experience are also typically paid lower wages than other assistance-receiving adults. "These are the poorest of the poor," he said.
The current system of assistance tends to render services to everyone in the same way, Little said. With the data from the tracking system — and as more information is gathered in the future — individuals who are vulnerable to intergenerational repetition can be identified and targeted for more tailored services, particularly high school completion, employment assistance and pregnancy prevention.
"One of the nice things about establishing this report is we are now tracking everyone," he said.
Reid said the state's population of people in poverty has a higher risk level for crime, incomplete education, teen pregnancy, drug and alcohol abuse and health care concerns. By targeting generational poverty, and in particular attempting to rescue children from the poverty cycle, it would mean not only helping individuals but also strengthening the state as a whole, he said.
"Every child in our state should have the same opportunity as any other child," Reid said. "Not only will we save children if we pursue this aggressively, we'll save hundreds of millions of dollars from the consequences of the lifestyle we're subjecting these children to that could be reapplied to our education system."