Despite heavy opposition since it’s passage in 2010, the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) has led to a significant decrease in the uninsured rate in every state, including Utah, since 2013.
The latest Census data (American Community Survey 1-year Estimates) released today shows that even states that have not expanded Medicaid have seen a decrease in the amount of uninsured. Utah saw more good news in the drop in the poverty rate of 12.7% in 2013 to 11.7% in 2014. The percentage of children in poverty also saw a significant drop to 13.3% from 14.8% in 2013. However, there is still so much more that Utah can do to help those who struggle with poverty to find financial stability and self-sufficiency.
While the rate of uninsured dropped, Utah still has the 15th highest uninsured rate in the nation leaving approximately 279,000 people without health care coverage in Utah. Thirteen of those states with higher rates, like Utah, have not expanded Medicaid. The rate of children who lack health care coverage has not changed since 2013 and remains essentially flat at 9.4% – which means nearly 85,000 children in Utah are going without much-needed health care coverage.
Some other areas of great concern for organizations that work to end poverty in Utah are poverty rates among those without basic education and single mothers. For those who lack a high school diploma or equivalency, the poverty rate is 20.7%. The rate is cut nearly in half at 11.2% for those who have a high school diploma or GED. Female-headed households without a spouse present see some of the highest poverty rates; in households with children under 18 the poverty rate is 36.9%, and households with children under five years only, the rate is a staggering 49.6%. Making sure that basic education is adequately funded and made easily available and strengthening programs that support struggling parents are necessary to assure strong, financially stable families in Utah.
Utah prides itself on being a fiscally responsible state and its efforts to contain costs and manage the state in an efficient manner should be applauded. If our goal as a state is to have as many people contributing to society as possible, we need to do more to help people achieve self-sufficiency by providing them adequate health care, safe and affordable housing, jobs that pay wages a family can support itself on, and the education needed to get those jobs. “When a parent can work 40 hours a week and still only make $15,000 a year, we need to examine our state policies on wages. For many of our low-wage workers in Utah, simply finding a better job is not an option if they lack the education needed for a higher-paying job. Providing access to high-quality education at all ages and stages of life is critical to build and maintain a strong workforce,” says Barbara Muñoz, Policy Analyst at Community Action Partnership of Utah.
At a federal level, Utah’s congressional delegation should support saving provisions of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit (CTC) that are set to expire. These refundable tax credits help thousands of Utahns out of poverty every year. Making sure that eligible workers are aware of these valuable credits and helping them with sound financial counseling and opportunities to save for their children’s education and for retirement someday is another way we can invest in Utah’s vulnerable populations. Finally, making sure that our Utah workforce is healthy and has access to affordable, cost-effective health care is one of the most effective ways we can assure that those in poverty can go to work, healthy and ready to work every day. Each day that the legislature fails to pass a health care bill that provides desperately-needed health care for low-income Utahns is another day that we have failed Utah’s vulnerable. There is so much our lawmakers can do to “elevate life” for everyone in Utah.