Utah Authorities Try To Tackle Intergenerational Poverty

Jun 6, 2016

Intergenerational poverty is poverty which has been passed on from one generation to the next. In 2012, the Utah State Legislature passed the Intergenerational Poverty Mitigation Act. The act was passed to help children in the cycle of poverty and welfare dependency overcome barriers preventing stability and opportunity.

Think high school graduation. Children experiencing intergenerational poverty have about a 56 percent graduation rate according to Utah Lt. Governor Spencer Cox. According to Cox, there are programs and services in place right now, meant to help, but they are actually hurting poor people.

“There’s disincentives built in and they just don’t know any differently. This is how they’ve lived their lives," Cox said. "And we’ve missed out on some opportunities to really help that group of people.”

The Intergenerational Welfare Reform Commission is working in 10 rural Utah counties to change potentially enabling programs so they will actually work to help families break the cycle.

“So it’s really taking an individualized approach—looking at all the services that are available," Cox said. "And not just government services but nonprofits, volunteers, our faith-based communities. [These groups] bring all of these groups together in a room to focus on individuals and specifically to focus on children.”

Cox said Utah actually has lower occurrences of intergenerational poverty than other places in the country. He said the approach Utah is taking to solve the problem is new.

“Historically we’ve treated poverty the same—that all poverty is equal. And here in Utah we’re getting something very unique," Cox said. "We actually started to dive into the numbers and we found out that that’s just not true.” 

According to Cox, changes in poverty will always take time, especially with intergenerational poverty. It could take generations before government officials and agencies see improvements. But he said the first place expected to see improvement is in Utah’s high school graduation rates.