SALT LAKE CITY — Utahns considered to be intergenerational welfare recipients receive on average nearly 12 years of public assistance, a figure that will likely increase unless something alters the course, according to a new state report.
"It is reasonable to expect that without intervention, the average will increase as time passes," according to Utah's second-annual Intergenerational Poverty, Welfare Dependency and the Use of Public Assistance report, which was released Thursday.
The report defines intergenerational welfare recipients as people who received more than 12 months of public assistance as children and more than 12 months of assistance as adults, differentiating them from people whose use of public assistance was situational and short-lived.
The report, which examines dependency on public assistance, demographics of people who received public assistance as children and adults, wages and educational attainment, is intended to inform the work of the Intergenerational Welfare Reform Commission.
The six-member panel, created under a law passed by the Utah Legislature earlier this year, is charged with studying the issue and recommending changes to policy and programs.
Jon Pierpont, executive director of the Department of Workforce Services, said the commission could have policy change proposals to present to the Utah Legislature prior to its upcoming general session.
The commission is assisted by the Intergenerational Poverty Advisory Committee, also created under the legislation sponsored by Sen. Stuart Reid, R-Ogden.
The report found that over the past 12 years, intergenerational public assistance recipients earned wages that were 24 percent lower than situational public assistance recipients.
Education is "a major determinant of potential earnings," the report said. Only 37 percent of intergenerational public assistance recipients are high school graduates. While 6 percent earned associate degrees, less than 1 percent have bachelor's degrees.
Although a higher percentage of this population is employed than people who received public assistance on a situational basis, they earn lower wages on average.
More than 36,400 adults in Utah received at least 12 months of public assistance as children and in adulthood, according to the report. The report examines Department of Workforce data from from 1989 to fiscal year 2013. The adult population it studies ranges in age from 21-41.
The report also identified more than 52,400 children ages newborn to 17 living in generational poverty household, up from 51,079 in fiscal 2012.
"Clearly we have a significant problem when there are well over 50,000 children living in poverty and in intergenerational welfare dependency. Of course, the consequences of that cycle are devastating for these children," Reid said Thursday.
The report indicates a slight increase in the population — 671 people — but this year's version also included data from the state Division of Child and Family Services. Expanding the scope of study resulted in a slight increase in the numbers.
The addition of DCFS data indicated a significant overlap between foster care and the intergenerational public assistance population.
"The episodes of foster care were eight times higher that those who were non-intergenerational public assistance users. It is important to note children are placed into foster care as a result of abuse, neglect, dependency or delinquency," the report said.
Carrie Mayne, chief economist for the Utah Department of Workforce Services and chief author of the report, said the overlap of children in foster care with children served by public assistance programs administered by DWS was not surprising.
But the report drew a clear distinction between the life experiences of children in intergenerational poverty compared with peers whose families received assistance on a situational basis.
The report found that "26.5 percent of them were substantiated child (abuse) victims with Child Protective Services," compared with 4.4 percent who had received public assistance on a situational basis.
"What we know about this population is their intense need for public services. We would think those stretch beyond that which DWS provides. We knew we'd see these people on DCFS rolls," Mayne said.
"What was surprising to us is the difference between the intergenerational group and the non-intergenerational group. That's what was staggering. That's really what allowed us to solidify our definition. If there really is that much difference between the experiences of those two groups, clearly we have found those who are in the cycle of poverty," she said.
The report does not form conclusions regarding the causality of a child entering the child welfare system. "However, a strong correlation exists between welfare dependency and adverse childhood experiences," the report said.
The report examines the utilization of child care subsidies, nutrition assistance programs, cash assistance, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and medical assistance programs such as the Children's Health Insurance Program.
The report showed that the Department of Workforce Services closed 5,300 public assistance cases in fiscal 2013, meaning they were "no longer part of the intergenerational welfare dependency cohort."
For 578 of them, the cases were closed because their incomes now exceed program guidelines, which DWS officials said was a bright spot in the report.
"I'll take it," Reid said. "I'll take anything I can."
Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company