Breaking the cycle: Children of poverty become adults in poverty

Published: Friday, Sept. 28 2012 8:00 p.m. MDT

The study looked at all adults between the ages of 21 and 40 who were served by the department in fiscal year 2012, which ended June 30, 2012. It then looked at their history of public assistance to determine if the same individuals received public assistance as children.

Data was available back to 1989, limiting the scope to those who are now 40, because those 41 and older would have been older than 17 in 1989.

Little said that as each year passes and reports are issued the results will provide greater depth to the information.

Among the conclusions regarding the adults on public assistance who received public assistance as children:

• They are more than twice as likely to be homeless as other public assistance recipients.

• They are twice as likely to have legal issues and wind up with a record of felonies and misdemeanors.

• They are less likely to have employment experience than other recipients.

• The longer adults experienced poverty as a child, the longer they are likely to be in poverty as adults.

"When you've got a generation passing on to another generation, it is a lack of understanding and skills," Little said. "Children don't learn the value, because the parents didn't learn the importance as a child. We think, 'Obviously, the parents understand, because the rest of society understands the value of those things,' but, sometimes, they don't."

Terry Haven, Kids Count director for Voices of Utah Children, said education is critical when it comes to helping intergenerational children, a term that would describe Toese's children.  Little said teachers, adults and mentors can make a difference by supporting and encouraging children to finish school.

Toese graduated from Kearns High, even though she had daughter, Jaylah, when she was 17. She said she looks forward to putting her own children in school.  

Haven said there are already programs underway to help low-income, at-risk children, including one in Granite School District that enrolls them in preschools. Because Utah's poverty populations are relatively low, she said, it is easier to target the children in need.

"Because our numbers are a little bit lower, its doable," Haven said. "We can make a difference, so these little changes can make some big changes."

And change is the goal, Demma said. He emphasized that intergenerational poverty is a problem in every county in the state and the response to the report will  speak volumes about what Utahns value.

"Society is defined, in large part, by how we treat those who are most vulnerable in our community," he said. "The closer we come to moving these numbers down, the closer we are to effecting real change."

Demma said the numbers are already helping them develop a curriculum.

"We know who they are now," Little said. "And that enables us to follow up in a way we couldn't before."

Toese came to the U.S. with an aunt and uncle when she was 12. Her life hasn't been all that she'd hoped for, but she plans to stay here.

"America has a better life," she said.

E-mail: emorgan@desnews.com, Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam

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