Along with 33 other states and Washington D.C., Utah experienced a 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. 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. Even states such as Utah that have not expanded Medicaid have seen a decrease in the amount of uninsured. However, Utah still has the 15th highest uninsured rate in the nation leaving approximately 279,000 people without health care coverage. 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 – which leaves Utah in 47th place when it comes to insuring children.
So while things are improving for much of the nation and Utah in terms of poverty, there is still so much more that Utah can do to help those who struggle with poverty to find financial stability and self-sufficiency.
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.
As Utah’s population becomes more diverse, policy makers need to pay particular attention to the disparity of opportunity and achievement for racial and ethnic minorities. While the poverty rate of those in Utah who are white alone (not Hispanic), the poverty rate is only 9.0% where the poverty rate among Hispanic or Latino individuals of any race is 23.6%.
Utah also has the fourth largest gender pay gap in the country with women workers earning 70 cents for every dollar her male counterpart earns. The median income of working females over 25 with a bachelor’s degree in Utah is $31,104. For men (all other info the same) the median income is $60,794.
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.
The Annual Report on Poverty (available online here) also provides county-specific data to show the disparities between geographic areas within the state. The county with the lowest poverty rate is Morgan County with a rate of only 4.8% while one in three people who live in San Juan County are living in poverty whose rate is 28.1%.