Independence is the main goal of most Utah welfare recipients. But low-paying jobs, escalating housing costs and lack of medical insurance make it nearly impossible for many of them.

That's the finding of the first comprehensive study of families who receive Aid to Families with Dependent Children in Utah. It was conducted by the University of Utah Survey Research Center for the Department of Human Services and state and federal agencies. It has an error margin of plus or minus 2.5 percent.One of the most startling findings, according to the center, is that 57 percent of female and 25 percent of male heads of household report that they have been victims of forced or unwanted sexual acts. Nearly one in five reported that one or more of their children had been sexually abused.

According to the 144-page report, AFDC victims who had been forced into sexual acts have been on welfare longer and are less likely to get off the rolls permanently, tend to receive less emotional and material support from family and friends, have more need to learn parenting skills and often lack the self-image that will allow them to be self-sufficient.

Dr. Lois Haggard, director of the research center, said that like most people, "I didn't really have an understanding of what the population was. I was surprised it was so predominantly female. I was surprised at the high rate of sexual abuse and other factors, like marraiges failing and not having job skills or being in a society that doesn't pay women to do the jobs they can get."

Of the more than 18,000 families who receive welfare in Utah, only 148 are two-parent households. Only 1,800 of the household heads are male. It was completed by 1,619 recipients; 91 percent reported they are trying to become independent.

The survey was conducted to help the state identify barriers to self-sufficiency and ways to help recipients achieve it.

More than one-fourth of those on welfare have a disability. And 12 percent have a child who has a serious medical problem. For many of the respondents, welfare is seen as the only way to get access to medical insurance, since low-paying jobs often do not provide benefits.

The survey identified several patterns among families that were able-bodied and not caring for a disabled child: Only half the recipients have a high school diploma. More than half are not attending school or job training. The number of people with a fatalistic attitude is high; almost half believe that "most of what happens in life is just meant to happen."

Nearly one in five respondents are working but at jobs that pay an average of $5 an hour. A single mother with two children would have to make $5.57 an hour just to reach the federal poverty level.

The survey concludes that since more than 90 percent of all single parents on welfare are women who have children from marriages that ended in divorce, Utah would be wise to include classes in relationships, interpersonal communication, family planning, parenting, self-esteem and goal setting in its high school curriculum.

The survey was conducted through a mailed questionaire in October 1992, then followed by in-depth focus group discussions.


(Additional information)

Voices of welfare recipients

As part of a survey of welfare recipients, researchers used information gleaned from focus groups composed of Aid to Families with Dependent Children caseworkers and clients. Here are some remarks by w3omen, speaking anonymously, on subjects ranging from hopelessness and the mortificatin of asking for help to the motivation to succeed.

"That was one of the most embarrassing moments of my life...just going in and picking up an application to go on welfare. It was as though, when I signed by name on that piece of paper and turned my name in, it was as though I admitted I was a failure."

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"I had no driver's license, I had not been to school, I had no GED, no diploma. I did not even see myself as being able to get there. i was in a mood where, you know, anything like taht would have been impossible. You know, it would have been that big of a deal to be able to accomplish anything like that.

"My first caseworker said, you know, you'll only get this for four years...once you do that, it's done. And I though, `Oh, well, now I've got a time limit here."

"And then I was in college. Because I just knew I needed to do that if I was going to have a daugher...I had always planned to going to college, but, who knows how long it would have taken me if I hadn't have had her. So she's really one of the stronger points in life."

Associated Press

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