Painting a Picture of Poverty in Utah: By the Numbers

Apr 03, 2012

By Jodie Levin-Epstein

This post originally appeared April 3 on Huffington Post.

In Utah, a picture of poverty is about to get painted. The state legislature has unanimously passed a bill that will provide data on the extent of, and the demographics attached to, intergenerational poverty in the state. While Utah may be the only state with such a law, there is growing interest around the country in research that shows economic mobility is more elusive in the U.S. than in other developed nations. Simply put, it's getting harder and harder for American families to move up the economic ladder and into a measure of financial security where they can afford quality health care, to send their kids to college, and can put away a little for retirement.

Existing national data may hint at future state findings. An Urban Institute study found that "being poor at birth is a strong predictor of future poverty status." About 30 percent of white children and 70 percent of black children who are born poor spend at least half their childhoods living in poverty. And children at the bottom of the ladder face greater challenges as adults in moving up. As the Mobility Project notes, "it is fairly hard for children born in the bottom fifth to escape from the bottom: 42 percent remain there." Poverty is much more than just statistics though, and for the Utah bill's sponsor it gets personal.

The new law was shepherded through the legislature by Sen. Stuart Reid, a conservative Republican. The Intergenerational Poverty Mitigation Act was driven by Reid's interest in getting accurate data to help shape future legislative proposals around intergenerational poverty. And, it likely reflects his own experiences with poverty. As a bishop in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Reid is responsible for administering his church's 75 year-old programs to provide members and non-members with food, clothing, job training, and other services. In his own home, Reid and his wife have helped a struggling young teen in the neighborhood with basic necessities, and plan to adopt him in the future.

How conservative is Sen. Reid? He was a vocal supporter of a Utah bill that would have permitted schools to stop teaching about contraception in favor of an abstinence-based approach. He was also the chief sponsor of a constitutional amendment that would have limited tax revenues similar to the TABOR law in Colorado.

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