from the Deseret News
Rate is rising despite low jobless figures
By Angie Welling
As a state, Utah's poverty rate consistently falls below the national average, but plenty of Utahns struggle daily to meet basic needs for their families, advocates for the poor said this week.
"There are poor people in Utah," said Heather Tritten, executive director of the Utah Community Action Partnership Association, speaking at Monday's official release of the organization's first-ever data book on poverty.
Information contained in the report aligns with that of other recent studies: The state's poverty rate continues to rise even as the unemployment rate drops, rising housing costs have outstripped wage increases, and a growing number of Utah children are uninsured.
The 60-page book, which includes county-specific data, is meant as a guide for policymakers and service providers, Tritten said.
"It's for people to understand this data, so we can better find solutions," she said.
Utah's 2005 poverty rate was 10.2 percent, up from 9.4 percent in 2000, according to Monday's report. Although that is below the national rate of 13.3 percent in 2005, 11 of the state's 29 counties have rates above the national average.
San Juan County, in southeastern Utah, is among the nation's poorest counties, with a 31.4 percent poverty rate, the report states.
Additionally, 14 percent of Utah households have no net worth, meaning a complete lack of assets. This is of particular concern, Tritten said, because even the smallest financial setback can send the families spiraling into poverty.
"Those families are making it right now because they have a job, but if something happens, they probably can't recover from that," she said.
Another threat to families already on the edge is the rising cost of health care and increased numbers of uninsured children, advocates said.
"If they get sick, that can make a family that's barely making it fall off the edge and into poverty," Tritten said.
Between 2001 and 2006, according to the data book, the rate of uninsured Utah children grew by 63.3 percent. For low-income children, the increase was even more significant, at 90.4 percent.
Perhaps the only good news in the report, Tritten said, was the figure noting that low-income Utahns received more than $244 million through the federal Earned Income Tax Credit in 2005.
"This is one way that people can start building assets and get out of a cycle of poverty," she said.
The entire data book is available at www.utahcap.org.
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