It’s been a good year for Utah’s economy. Workers have seen wage growth that exceeds the national average. The unemployment rate continues to drop and surveys show there is public confidence in continued economic progress, all of which has helped Utah outpace the nation in rates of charitable giving. This year, people are in good shape to share their prosperity with others, and there is a sizable portion of the population in need of various kinds of assistance. The healthy economy, after all, has nonetheless passed over many in the Beehive State.
The poverty rate remains at about 12 percent, roughly the same as it was at the peak of the 2008 recession. For certain classifications of households, the rates are disturbingly high. For instance, the Community Action Partnership of Utah says among female-headed households with no spouse present and with children under age 5, almost half are living below the poverty line. While economic benefits have boosted those in the middle and upper classes, those on the lower economic rungs have seen little improvement.
As we enter the season in which charities seek and receive a healthy chunk of their annual donations and volunteer pledges, we expect Utahns to again rise to the occasion and validate our reputation for an uncommon dedication to philanthropy. For the 10th year in a row, the Corporation for National and Community Service ranked Utah as the top state for volunteerism, while WalletHub named Utah the most charitable state for the second-straight year. We exceed, by large measure, the national rates for both volunteer work and per capita donations to charitable causes — but there’s more yet to be done.
For a lot of charities, the holiday season is crunch time. They rely on end-of-year largesse to carry them into the coming year. There are many organizations worthy of support, and the needs are critical in areas of hunger, housing and education.
More than 400,000 people in Utah — 15 percent of the population — are in the category of “food insecure,” according to the Utah Food Bank, which has long provided invaluable assistance to families and individuals. The need is especially acute for children in need of help in maintaining a nutritious diet. The organization says 1 in 5 Utah children are unsure of where their next meal will come from.
The plight of people struggling to find permanent housing has been well documented. Several organizations are worthy of contributions in that arena. One, the Volunteers of America, was able to use contributions from 500 public and private donors to open a new resource center for homeless youth. The facility will offer stability and around-the-clock assistance for homeless and at-risk children.
Small children living in poverty are in a situation in which the cards are stacked against them when it comes to success in school. They tend to move from place to place and commonly enter school less prepared than children who are better off. The United Way of Utah has launched a campaign to gather books and funds to support literacy programs for kids in poverty. Last year, a similar drive raised $67,000. The organization hopes to double that amount this year.
The success of these programs and many others speaks to our collective commitment to philanthropy year-round, but particularly during the time of year in which we pause to appreciate the values of compassion and goodwill.