Terry Haven works with numbers for a living. Yet when pressed for an accurate description of Utah children living in poverty, she does not reach for a statistic.
She could. As the kids count coordinator for the advocacy group Utah Children, she has the latest at her finger tips. But she prefers this image:"The number of children living in poverty in Utah would fill to capacity the Delta Center, the Mormon Tabernacle, Rice-Eccles Stadium and the E Center," she said. "And you'd still have a little over 1,000 children waiting to get in."
Translated back into numbers, that's 82,107 children under the age of 18 who live below the federal standards for poverty, according to the the most recent estimates available (1996) from the U.S. Census Bureau.
That's 11.6 percent of all children in the state. And it's up from 10.5 percent in 1995.
Haven admits that's not a huge increase. "But we went up, and that's a concern for me, because the rest of the nation went down."
Nationally, 20.5 percent of children live in poverty. That's down from 20.8 the year before.
"And so many of the states surrounding us also went down," Haven said. "Arizona, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. The fact that we worsened, even if it was only by about a percent, when a lot of people around us improved, is cause for concern."
But the numbers contain more good news than bad, said Natalie Gochnour, an economist with the Governor's Office of Planning and Budget.
"The numbers did go up one tick, but 11.6 percent is really low ranking-wise," she said.
Only two other states, Minnesota and New Hampshire, have a lower number of people under the age of 18 living in poverty.
"Keep in mind, these are model-based estimates," Gochnour added. "They're synthetic, a mechanical estimate, with a variance that has to be taken into consideration."
The U.S. Census Bureau tables show the percentage could be as low as 10.2 percent or as high as 12.9.
But Haven goes back to her original "social math" example of filling local venues with children.
"It makes you visualize the number of children we have in poverty," she said. "It's a sobering notion that we have so many at risk."
Both Haven and Gochnour say the 1996 numbers reflect poverty rates when Utah's economic growth was at its peak. Census statistics for more recent years, when the economy's growth has slowed, may yield less favorable numbers.