Jae C. Hong, Associated Press
Jose Guillen, 68, sorts recyclable items at a recycling center in Los Angeles, Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2011. The ranks of the nation's poor have swelled to a record 46.2 million.
At a time when many politicians are loathe to devote any resources to what they might view as perpetuation of a so-called "welfare state," Sen. Reid has recognized that a solution lies in a better understanding of the problem.

The issue of income disparity among Americans has become a political lightning rod in the current presidential campaign, and like most issues that rise to that level of discourse, there is sometimes more emotion than fact present in the conversation.

That's why it is good to see legislation proposed in Utah that will go about examining an integral part of the broader issue in a clear, objective and data-driven manner.

Senator Stuart Reid, R-Ogden, has sponsored legislation that would require the Department of Workforce Services to gather existing data on people who have fallen into a condition one might describe as chronic poverty. They are people who rely on public assistance, as did their parents and possibly their grandparents, following a generational pattern.

Existing data shows roughly a third of all people who accept government assistance fall into this group. The other two-thirds are victims of situational poverty, brought on by a job loss, a medical problem or other factors. The obvious conclusion is that children who grow up in poverty are more likely to stay in poverty. The hope behind Senate Bill 37 is that data might reveal evidence that intervention in a certain time or manner may increase the odds for an individual or family to move away from reliance on public assistance.

If it does, the state would be in a position — through future legislation or policy initiatives — to surgically target critical pressure points in the cycle of poverty to stop its transference to future generations.

Advocates for the poor say solutions are already visible — that access to education is the single-most effective weapon and that legislative energy should be spent on resources to bolster programs with that aim.

At the very least, Reid's bill could provide clear validation of that perspective, and thereby pave the way for additional resources, or for resources to be allocated in a more effective way.

At a time when many politicians are loathe to devote any resources to what they might view as perpetuation of a so-called "welfare state," Sen. Reid has recognized that a solution lies in a better understanding of the problem. And since more than 150,000 children in Utah currently live in poverty, any effort to find a way to rescue them is worth exploring.