With the federal government reporting the first decline ever in the number of poor Americans, now is the best time ever to start getting rid of poverty altogether.
So says a combination poverty status report and call to action issued Tuesday by an association of more than 1,000 low-income advocacy groups from across the country.
A 0.4 percent dip in the number of low-income residents recently reported by the U.S. Census Bureau shows modest progress, according to the Community Action Partnership report. The partnership, established in 1964 as front-line service providers in the War on Poverty, believes the decline, while welcome, will be short-lived.
Utah statistics support that assertion. According to 2007 data book compiled by the Utah Community Action Partnership Association, the poverty rate here is actually increasing and now stands at 10.2 percent. A 2.4 percent increase in poverty occurred at the same time unemployment was running at a historic low of about 2.7 percent.
A family of four in Utah is considered poor if it has an annual income of $20,650 or less.
Over the same five-year period, the cost of housing in Utah and health care nationally continued to skyrocket, although housing prices have declined the past several months.
Other local poverty indicators: 13.9 percent of Utah's households have no net worth; 32 percent of Utah schoolchildren receive free or reduced school lunch.
The Utah data book also shows that between 2001 and 2006, the number of uninsured Utah children increased by 63.3 percent. The number of uninsured low-income children in Utah grew by 90.4 percent during that same period.
Community Action administrators here fully endorse the "Rooting Out Poverty: A Campaign by America's Community Action Network" as a workable, beneficial and realistic blueprint to improve the lives and increase the chance for many more low-income Utahns to be self-sufficient.
The report calls for common-sense solutions to issues of quality child day care, education opportunities who already lack basic job skills and more assistance to the elderly. Current economic conditions are portending an upward spike in poverty nationally that must be countered by a serious and specific strategy designed to break down barriers that still block the poor from self-sufficiency.
"While some Americans are enjoying our nation's economic well-being, far, far too many are not," said James Norman, partnership board member and chairman of the steering committee for the National Conversation on Poverty and Economic Security. "The number of poor people in the U.S. range from conservative estimates of 15 million to more than 35 million."
Community Action Agencies were started under the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964. They can be found in neighborhoods and nearly every county in every state.Most who receive CAA support have household annual incomes of about $9,700, or less than 75 percent of the federal poverty level of $17,170 for a family of three.