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New Poverty Numbers Show Insights into Family Struggles

New U.S. Census Bureau data shows improvements for low-income families in Utah as well as what needs to be done to increase self-sufficiency. Education is key. Credit: EME/pixabay.com
New U.S. Census Bureau data shows improvements for low-income families in Utah as well as what needs to be done to increase self-sufficiency. Education is key. Credit: EME/pixabay.com
September 18, 2015

SALT LAKE CITY - The U.S. Census Bureau is reporting good news for Utah, with new data on income, poverty and health insurance. The overall poverty rate has dropped about 1 percent, and the rate of people without health coverage dropped slightly.

Barbara Munoz, a policy analyst at Community Action Partnership of Utah, said the good news is tempered by a closer look at the findings, which show that the poverty rate rises to around 20 percent for Utahns without a high school diploma. She said that's a clear call to better fund education at all levels, and focus on helping families become self-sufficient.

"Not just traditional high school students, but adults have the access and opportunity to go and get that high school diploma - some post-high school training, possibly technical school or associates degree," she said, "because the more education people have, the more the poverty rate drops."

While Utah's percent of people without health insurance dropped, it's still one of the highest rates in the country with 279,000 people without coverage. Munoz said almost all states in that top tier have refused federal money to expand Medicaid, including Utah.

Decisions on the horizon will affect low-income families in Utah. Provisions of the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit are set to expire. Munoz said those credits keep thousands of families above the poverty line.

"We would like to see Congress act and keep those tax credits strong for families who are working," she said. "These are incentives for working families, so we need to make sure that those credits stay strong and those provisions stay in place."

While the state poverty rate is 11.7 percent, Munoz said it can't be overlooked that that rate rises to nearly 50 percent in single-mother households with children younger than age 5.

The data is online at census.gov.

Deborah Courson Smith/Deb Courson Smith, Public News Service - UT