Utahns in poverty live in a political catch-22. They are the ones most affected by programs designed to fight poverty, but they are so busy trying to survive that they can’t take time out to engage with policy makers and politicians in order to help them better understand how to help.
The Community Action Partnership of Utah‘s 4th Annual Conference on Poverty is slated for Wednesday. The gathering will bring together agencies who are tasked with fighting poverty with policy makers to talk about how to address poverty and improve services for those who are economically struggling in Utah.
Afton January, Associate Director of the Community Action Project of Utah, says Utah’s poverty rate is better than the national average, which helps. But there’s still more to be done.
“A minimum wage employee in Utah needs to work about 82 hours a week in order to afford a two-bedroom apartment at the market rate,” she says. “It’s not just those who are economically destitute who are struggling with poverty issues. There are a lot of people who are working hard but just can’t improve their situation.”
According to Census Bureau numbers, about 1 in 7 Utahns live in poverty, and most of those are children. That’s better than the national average of 1 in 6. About 6% of seniors in Utah are in poverty.
That low rate is partially due to Utah’s good economy.
“It’s fortunate we are a well-managed state,” says January. “We have good leaders who are focused on having a lot of jobs. We need to work on securing jobs that pay a living wage.”
January says there seems to be a disconnect between policy makers and Utahns who live in poverty. January says the personal calculus those below the poverty line have to make every day precludes them from participating in the political process.
“What we are seeing right now is people working very hard to survive. They have to work long hours just to make sure the lights stay on, while also getting their kids to school and keeping one or more jobs. Those day-to-day considerations add up to a huge amount of stress for them. They simply have no ability to engage politically. To devote time and effort to talk with politicians seems absurd when they have all those other things to deal with.”
The 4th Annual Conference on Poverty takes place Wednesday at the downtown Sheraton Hotel in Salt Lake City.