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Too Many Utah Families Lack Financial Cushion

A new policy brief suggests changes that could help low-income families establish some savings. (cohdra/morguefile)
A new policy brief suggests changes that could help low-income families establish some savings. (cohdra/morguefile)
January 20, 2016

SALT LAKE CITY - Even as the economy improves, Utah families still are struggling to put money aside for emergencies, for college and for retirement - and the wealth gap is growing between whites and people of color. That's one conclusion of a new policy brief released today.

The brief, from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, is called "Investing in Tomorrow: Helping Families Build Savings and Assets." Beadsie Woo, senior associate at the foundation's Center for Community and Economic Opportunity, said lawmakers should consider establishing a universal savings account with about $1,000 in it for each American child at birth, to get families started saving.

"There are common-sense federal policies that can create more opportunities for families to save, and those change the life course for their children," Woo said. "Children whose families can save will do better in school and have stronger outcomes through access to opportunities."

According to the website TalkPoverty.org, almost 12 percent of Utah families live below the poverty line. That number is about 33 percent for Native Americans, about 24 percent for Latinos and 23 percent for African-Americans.

Right now, Utahns with more than $2,000 in savings don't qualify for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. According to the policy brief, the federal government should raise that limit to $12,125, which equals three months of wages for a low-income family of four. Woo said the government also needs to collect better data on family incomes.

"Income is a very important piece of information about how a family's doing," she said. "We also want to know about their savings, and understanding what kind of financial cushion families have that can help them weather an emergency, an unexpected expense or an unexpected income loss."

The brief also recommended that the government do a much better job of promoting programs that increase home ownership and enroll families in entry-level retirement accounts called MyRAs.

The report is online at aecf.org.

Suzanne Potter, Public News Service - UT