Utah State Senator Stuart Reid is providing important leadership on a crucial issue — intergenerational poverty. The 1990s saw a major effort to reform public welfare through work requirements for welfare recipients. This effort had merit, but Senator Reid is proposing something more foundational.
The intergenerational poverty effort is based on an important distinction described in Senate Bill 37, approved in the 2012 legislative session. The bill notes there are two kinds of poverty. “Situational poverty” is poverty “generally traceable to a specific incident or time period within the lifetime of a person,” which doesn’t continue with the next generation. “Intergenerational poverty” is “poverty in which two or more successive generations of a family continue in the cycle of poverty and government dependence.”
It seems obvious that these two kinds of poverty need to be addressed differently. The key at this point is to understand the scope and nature of the challenge of intergenerational poverty.
We know that certain factors associated with poverty like unwed parenting and divorce are more likely when one’s parents experienced these things. One study looking at long-term data concluded: “Women who experienced a spell of welfare receipt during childhood are almost three times as likely to become welfare participants as adults as are women whose parents did not receive welfare.”
Senator Reid’s legislation calls for a report on Utah intergenerational poverty data each September, so we will learn more about the scope of the problem in Utah soon.
The next step is to determine how civil society can respond to the challenge and whether there are things the government is doing or not doing that contribute to the problem. Senator Reid has explained that a key element of the response is going to be centering our responses on children who experience poverty to ensure they have every opportunity to end the cycle of dependence.
Senator Reid’s leadership on this issue is greatly appreciated.