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Poverty rate in Utah on the rise

Published: Wednesday, Sept. 29 2010 12:49 a.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah has seen a "huge increase" in poverty levels as a result of the recession, according to an analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data released Tuesday by the American Community Survey. Utah's poverty rate jumped from 9.6 percent in 2008 to 11.5 percent in 2009. And while 10.5 percent of Utah children were in poverty in 2008, that has increased to 12.2 percent.

Voices for Utah Children, a child advocacy group based in Salt Lake City, said the number of kids living in poverty in Utah is "now equivalent to the number of first and second graders in the state, plus about 20,000 of the third graders."

Overall, 316,217 Utahns lived in poverty in 2009. Five years ago, just over 246,000 Utahns were classified as poor. (To qualify as poor under federal guidelines a family of four would have to bring in less than $23,000 a year).

Among those 65 and older, 7.4 percent of Utahns are poor. The male poverty rate is 10.6 percent, while the female rate is 12.5 percent.

The numbers are no surprise to those who run programs that serve the disadvantaged, said Heather Tritten, CAP Utah, the state association of community action programs. "What we're seeing with services we provide and with the data are that people in the middle class are falling into the ranks of the poor. They need more services and support. And while it's hopefully temporary ... we see a lot of people coming in (for help) who've never had to come in before. Sixty percent of the people are coming in for the first time."

"We set records for everything we do in terms of the demand on our services last year," said Glenn Bailey, director of Crossroads Urban Center.

He said food pantry use was up 20 percent over the previous year — and that was already a big increase over the years before. The thrift store saw a 28 percent increase in the number of people who needed free items. "The recession has hit us pretty hard from 2008-2009," he said. "Right now, we are continuing to see a huge increase."

The American Community Survey found that Washington County has the highest child poverty rate in Utah, 18.8 percent, just ahead of Cache and Weber counties, which both had 16.3 percent. Salt Lake County's child poverty rate is 12.5 percent, Utah County had 10.1 percent and Davis County was 7.1 percent.

Terry Haven, Kids Count director at Voices for Utah Children, noted in a written statement that "Income losses can set off a wave of negative outcomes that affect children for years to come." Those children are more apt to be ill, hospitalized, at risk for hunger, fall behind in school, have lower earning potential and suffer developmental delays, she added.

While Utah's overall poverty rate grew at nearly double the national rate between 2008 and 2009, it is well below the national 14.5 percent. Also nationally, one in five children lived in poverty in 2009. The highest child poverty rate was 31 percent in Mississippi, while the lowest child poverty rate was 10.8 percent in New Hampshire.

That ACS abstract on Utah noted that Utah's median household income fell for the third straight year in 2009 to $55,117, while in 2008 it was $56,304 and the year before it was $56,891.

e-mail: lois@desnews.com Twitter: Loisco

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