Some 40 percent of Sevier County children who currently live in poverty are at risk of remaining so as adults, according to the Utah Intergenerational Welfare Reform Commission’s annual report.
Utah Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox hosted a meeting in Richfield June 30 to discuss the causes of, and possible solutions to, intergenerational poverty. Approximately 60 people, including ecclesiastical, civic, education and business leaders attended.
“Government is not great at a lot of things government tries to do,” Cox said. “One thing government is good at is bringing people together.”
Cox said even though trillions of dollars are spent on poverty, the poverty rate in the United States is essentially the same as it was 40 years ago. He said research has shown that there are two types of poverty.
The first type is situational, which is caused by certain events in a person’s life like accidents, divorce or health crisis. The other type of poverty is intergenerational, where children raised on welfare become adults who are dependent on the same programs.
Cox said Utah is attempting a new approach to poverty by partnering with local leaders to address the root causes of it.
“This is not the state coming in to tell you what to do,” Cox said. “We have great people in every community who care about these issues.”
Cox said local leaders are the best ones to lead the charge when it comes to intergenerational poverty, because they know the families involved. The ultimate goal of the effort is to give people the tools they need to break the cycle of poverty.
“Every family is unique,” Cox said.
One thing that is not unique is the need for education, Cox said. He said there must be a focus on making sure children who are at risk of being in poverty as adults are being given a quality education.
“We want to move the needle,” said Jon Pierpont, Utah Department of Workforce Services director. The DWS administers several of the state’s welfare programs, and DWS data has been used in the study of intergenerational poverty.
There are four primary areas of child well-being that serve as risk indicators for adulthood poverty — education, family economic stability, health and early childhood development, Pierpont said.
One of the pieces of data that is linked to a child not receiving a quality education is a chronic absence rate in their elementary and middle school years. Students who miss 10 percent or more of their school year are at a greater risk of living in poverty as adults, said Tracy Gruber, director of the Utah Office of Child Care.
“Eighty-one percent of those living in intergenerational poverty lack post high school education,” Gruber said.
Solutions may include simple things, like a volunteer group that makes sure at risk children are attending school, Cox said.
“Our kids in Sevier County need help,” said Rebecca Mills, 4-H youth development coordinator for Sevier County. She said mentoring and academic programs offered through 4-H could be part of the solution that state leaders are seeking from local groups.
“The focus of 4-H is improving kids,” Mills said. Mills, along with several others at the meeting, volunteered to serve on a core group of local leaders to develop ways to help at risk children.