ST. GEORGE – Poverty that continues from one generation to the next is a big problem not just nationwide but also right in Southern Utah.
More than 45 percent of children in Washington County are currently living in poverty or are at risk for intergenerational poverty. Local leaders are combining efforts with a state initiative to end the cycle.
“If it can be done, if it’s possible to be done, it can be done here,” Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox said.
Cox is the chair of the Intergenerational Welfare Reform Commission and is touring the 10 counties in Utah with the highest rate of children at risk for remaining in poverty; that group includes Washington County.
Cox and the Washington County Commission hosted an initial meeting of more than 60 local leaders Tuesday to begin addressing the problem of poverty and reliance on public assistance that continues from one generation to the next. City and county officials along with representatives in the health, faith, nonprofit and education fields filled the commission chambers to overflowing.
“The idea is that counties will be working independently to come up with their own solutions to work with these different groups to put together a plan to focus on these kids and help make sure that they have a bright future,” Cox said.
In 2012, the Utah Legislature adopted the Intergenerational Poverty Mitigation Act, recognizing that children in the cycle of poverty and welfare dependency experience barriers to stability and opportunity. When families remain in the cycle of poverty there are high societal and economic costs to Utah.
The act directs the Department of Workforce Services to track intergenerational poverty statistics and share the information with other state agencies including the departments of Health and Human Services, Workforce Services, Juvenile Courts and Education. Findings from the fourth annual report were presented at the meeting.
“When we think about folks that are struggling,” Commissioner Victor Iverson said, “they’re our neighbors, they’re our friends, they’re our family, they go to school with our kids. We have an important obligation to … help them.”
“It’s an important part of who we are as Washington County,” he said, “… to help folks overcome this challenge.”
“This is a really good start,” St. George Mayor Jon Pike said, observing that intergenerational poverty is a problem not just across the country, but in our own communities. He said:
When I first saw these numbers a couple months ago, I didn’t believe it – 40, 45 percent likely to be intergenerational? We need to solve that. We need to get to the root causes and find some root solutions. And I have confidence that with the help of the state, this county can do it.
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