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Report: 1/3 of impoverished Utahns spend 1/2 of their income on housing

SOUTH SALT LAKE — As the single mother of two young sons and a college student, Isabell Archuleta's plate is full.

Her life may be hectic, but Archuleta has very specific goals in mind: completing her studies at Salt Lake Community College, then transferring to a university to obtain a degree in elementary education.

She wants to be a first-grade teacher and to provide for her sons, ages 4 and 6, a childhood that is healthier and more economically secure than her own spent in poverty.

"If I have a better education and have my life together, then I can give them a better life and make sure they don't follow in the same steps I did," she said.

Archuleta, 28, is a participant in the Department of Workforce Services' Next Generation Kids program. The initiative, part of the department's efforts to reduce intergenerational poverty in Utah, is a financial assistance program that focuses on entire families.

Next Generation Kids is but one example of the boots-on-the-ground initiatives that have resulted from years of study of adults and children who experience intergenerational poverty.

In the latest phase of the initiative, state officials shared county-level data with local government leaders in 10 rural counties where a significant portion of their children are at risk of remaining in poverty as adults. New initiatives are underway to address issues unique to their own communities.

State leaders have been researching public assistance dependency and intergenerational poverty since 2012, after passage of legislation sponsored by former Sen. Stuart Reid, R-Ogden, that requires the Utah Department of Workforce Services to produce an annual report on the issues.

This year's report, made public Thursday, showed some improvements and other areas of challenge for families living in intergenerational poverty.

For instance, one-third of Utahns experiencing intergenerational poverty are spending half of their household incomes on housing — yet another indication of the affordable housing pinch affecting the Beehive State.

The fifth-annual Report on Intergenerational Poverty, Welfare Dependency and the Use of Public Assistance also found that half of adults in the cohort spend more than 30 percent of their incomes on housing.

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development guidelines consider families that spend more than 30 percent of their income for housing as "cost burdened."

"When affordable housing is not available, family stability is affected. In those instances, families may be subject to frequent moves and, in some cases, homelessness," the state report says.

The report shows that families that struggle to pay for housing may also experience difficulty meeting other basic needs such as food, clothing, transportation or medical care.

Under the Next Generation Kids program, family success coaches help guide parents into employment, high school completion, postsecondary education and work with children on preschool and kindergarten preparation. The program also offers workshops on nutrition and financial stability.

Maren Stevens, who coaches Archuleta's family and three others, said she met Archuleta four years ago when she was working in a different capacity for Workforce Services as an employment counselor.

Although Stevens, while in that capacity, helped Archuleta complete high school, she and her family have blossomed with more intensive services offered through the Next Generation Kids program.

Archuleta said she felt overwhelmed with family demands and untreated depression. Through Next Generation Kids, she obtained counseling and has honed her organizational skills, which helps her better manage her time.

"She's a different person. She has gained so much confidence working with our program," Stevens said.

Early on, Stevens accompanied Archuleta through college visits, the financial aid process and helped her enroll her older son in school. Now Archuleta is comfortable handling most things on her own, although Stevens remains her sounding board and her go-to person when she needs help or a little boost.

"Just to see her balance her family obligations with her dreams and going back to school, it's been amazing over the past year to see how she's learned to do this and be successful at that. She's overcome obstacles that I think would stump a lot of people," Stevens said.

The state's latest report on intergenerational poverty report takes a deeper dive into the lives of Utah families experiencing multiple generations of poverty. There has been some progress over the previous year such as an 11 percent increase in average annual wages, up $13,423 from $11,506, but other indicators changed only a little.

According to the report, 37,512 adults and 57,602 children experienced intergenerational poverty in 2015.

About one-third of Utah children — 291,753 youths — are at risk of remaining in poverty as they become adults, the report says.

But the report suggests that outcome is not a foregone conclusion. Rates of child poverty slightly improved over the previous year, and 206 children experiencing intergenerational poverty received scholarships to attend preschool.

Moreover, 98 preschool classrooms serving 3,155 low-income children have received funding to improve program quality since 2014.

"Now we can say how many kids are connecting not just to preschool, but high quality preschool," said Tracy Gruber, author of the report and director of the state Office of Child Care.

High school graduation rates of children in the cohort have increased 9 percent since 2012, another positive trend, Gruber said.

But this year's report, as in previous years, notes that children who live in poverty and have other stressors during early childhood "are more likely to experience developmental setbacks that follow them throughout their life."

Sixty percent of these children grow up in single-parent households.

"Unfortunately, children growing up in single-parent households are more likely to live in poverty. In 2014, among single-mother families, 33 percent were impoverished. Among the children receiving public assistance, children within the intergenerational poverty child cohort were more likely to live in a single-parent household — primarily single women — than the non-(intergenerational poverty) children," the report says.

Economic stability remains a key factor for families experiencing intergenerational poverty.

Sixty-two percent of adults in intergenerational poverty had some employment during 2015, but underemployment is prevalent, which contributes to their household's challenges. Their earning potential is also limited by a lack of postsecondary education or training. "Seventy-two percent of adults in intergenerational poverty lack education beyond high school, compared to 32 percent statewide," the report states.

Another complicating factor is 17 percent of adults in intergenerational poverty have criminal histories that resulted in incarceration in the state prison system.

While the report sheds light on new efforts for early childhood education, many school-age children in intergenerational poverty struggle with school attendance and mastery of math and language arts.

Just 19 percent of students in intergenerational poverty were proficient in third-grade language arts, compared to 44 percent of all third-graders statewide, according to the report.

Less than 20 percent of children chronically absent in kindergarten and first grade read on grade level after third grade.

The report also highlights the health, mental health and dental care needs of children experiencing intergenerational poverty that will enhance their healthy development.

Access to health care has improved since 2011, but the rates of people utilizing preventive care, behavioral health and dental services remain low.

"From 2014 to 2015 there was little change in the use of preventive care across all age groups," the report says.

Overall, the report also noted "progress toward addressing the gaps revealed in the data" the past four years.

A comprehensive plan that involves extensive data collection, reporting and guidance from stakeholders from all areas of state government is underway, which now involves efforts at the local government level.

"Although state government plays an important role in gathering and analyzing the data to inform decision-making, it must leverage additional systems to meet its priorities," the report concludes.