Little girl living in poverty.

Tackling intergenerational poverty at Utah’s Legislature

How can Utah encourage the private sector to help children in intergenerational poverty?

HB 24 offers the hope to children in intergenerational poverty that their parents’ poverty and a lack of savings will not dash their dreams of a college education,” said Christine Cooke, Sutherland Institute education policy analyst. “By encouraging self-reliance and private donations to college savings accounts for children in intergenerational poverty, this legislation ensures that children who overcome the significant educational barriers of intergenerational poverty will get a chance at a successful life through higher education.”

How can public education meet the unique educational needs of children in intergenerational poverty?

HB 168 is good policy because it requires extended-day kindergarten program to meet the unique early childhood needs of children in intergenerational poverty, who need these programs the most,” Cooke said. “While research shows that the effectiveness of expanding kindergarten for all children is questionable, it also shows that it is most effective for the most-at-risk children. In Utah, that is clearly children in intergenerational poverty.”

How can Utah make it easier to escape intergenerational poverty?

HB 294 is good policy because it tears down barriers to a person in intergenerational poverty once they have prepared themselves for a life of self-reliance through academic success and are ready to pursue full-time employment,” said Sutherland Institute director of public policy Derek Monson. “The transition from inherited poverty to sustainable employment has enough personal, cultural and social barriers for those in intergenerational poverty without adding to that an income tax policy that takes away some of the financial reward of working. This legislation sends the message that Utah intends to help those in intergenerational poverty help themselves out of poverty, whenever they are able and ready to make that transition.”

How can Utah connect our best teachers to children in poverty?

“Good teachers deserve to be rewarded, and HB 212 forwards that value while sending the message that it is not how long you last in the classroom, but how well you perform that defines good teaching,” said Cooke, who is also a former teacher in Utah’s public schools. “This legislation also ensures that we are connecting our best teachers to the children who need them the most – children living in poverty. HB 212 is good policy because it constructively engages education leaders in re-thinking the teaching profession – both pay and morale – and fills a resource gap for Utah’s most-at-risk children.”

Cheerful little poor boy standing portrait near brick wall at his home and looking to the camera portrait close up.

Testimony in support of HB 24 (Student Prosperity Savings Program – Tax Amendments)

Statement in support of HB 24 Sub 1 (Student Prosperity Savings Program – Tax Amendments) as prepared by Christine Cooke, who testified before the Senate Revenue and Taxation Standing Committee on Feb. 17, 2017:

Thank you, members of the committee.

I’m Christine Cooke, education policy analyst at Sutherland Institute.

Sutherland understands that every child has unique needs – especially when it comes to education – and believes that legislation ought to reflect these realities.

My colleague sits on the state’s intergenerational poverty advisory board, so we recognize that students experiencing IGP have very distinct needs.

Especially for children experiencing IGP, a life of prosperity – including educational and economic opportunity – is likely out of reach without the help of policy that incentivizes charitable donations from private actors and encourages financial self-reliance.

Because we believe HB 24 Sub 1 is sound policy, we ask you to support the bill.

Thank you.

Young African American family having fun while drawing together at home.

3 Things the Family Prosperity Index shows Utah legislators

By Krisana Finlay

This Utah legislative session covers 1,200-plus bills, and with only 45 days to cover them all, legislators need to know what issues matters most.

Luckily the newly published Family Prosperity Index (FPI), of which Sutherland gave a recent general overview, gives legislators a few things to keep in mind.

  1. Thanks in part to Utah legislators, Utah ranks No. 1 in the nation for family prosperity.

It’s important to remember where we are doing well, and as a whole, Utah surpasses all other states with flying colors. It takes the national lead in five of the six FPI major indexes. In the economics category Utah comes in second to North Dakota, thanks to that state’s fracking boom, which affected the statistics this year and since then has reportedly declined.1

Why is Utah ranked No. 1 nationally?

Utah citizens and lawmakers uphold the cherished principle that family is the fundamental unit of society. This fundamental unit is the driving force behind everything they do – framing how they go about the day’s work and the night’s play. All is geared toward building strong families. Strong families facilitate functional cultures, capable communities and enriched economies. And the FPI proves it.

Utah is experiencing true prosperity considering its robust scores on almost all major prosperity index scores. But all of its flying banners of success cannot discount two areas of real concern: self-mortality overall, and conditions in Salt Lake County.

  1. Utah Legislators need to take an uncomfortable but direct look at self-mortality.

Utah does well in the major index of family health. We’re in the top 10 states for low rates of tobacco, alcohol, and obesity, illicit drug use, sexually transmitted disease rates, and high rates of infant survival. But Utah has a serious problem with self-mortality, ranking 45th in the nation because of its suicide and drug-overdose rates.

Suicide Rates

It’s bad. Utah’s suicide rate has consistently measured above the national average and has accelerated at a faster rate, increasing 43 percent between 2000 and 2014 (the national average increased 29 percent).1 Leaders have been confounded when it comes to resolving this problem, in part from the myriad risk factors: domestic violence, bullying, alcohol or drug abuse, local epidemics of suicide,2 increased elevation, or feeling constrained when it comes to seeking help.3

This combination of risk factors may be providing the perfect storm. Domestic abuse, high stress in school or work, high expectations, addiction, and technology offering counterfeit connections instead of real relationships and resources may cause a person to consider dire alternatives.

Drug-Overdose Rates and Opioid Addiction

Utah’s drug-overdose rates are also a concern. Utah’s rates have been higher than the national average, although growing at a slower rate.1 Luckily, the 21st Century Cure Act Congress passed just last December offers help. This bipartisan legislation takes a comprehensive approach in solving opioid overdoses and distributes $1 billion of its budget to states to address local health concerns. This funding distribution will take place early this year, in perfect timing for the Utah legislative session.

U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan in a recent town hall meeting commented, “We have to have a full-front war against this opioid epidemic, and that is exactly what we passed and funded.” Along with that help, Salt Lake County must also solve some full-front wars of its own.

  1. Salt Lake County needs help

The most populous county in the state, Salt Lake County reports having a higher violent crime rate, higher rate of families with children below poverty level, and the lowest level of married taxpayers in the state. It also had 4,412 of the 9,687 unwed births in the state (46 percent).1

To answer the why behind these statistics, the FPI offers the following insight, citing a 2012 domestic policy report from The Heritage Foundation:

“Not surprisingly, many of these factors are interrelated. For example, children from single-parent homes, emanating from a high unwed birth rate, are more prone to criminal activities in youth (more than twice as likely to be arrested) and young adulthood (three times more likely to be in jail by age 30) relative to children from intact married families.” 1

A guide to resolving self-mortality and Salt Lake County concerns

Boyd Matheson recently said, “In areas where we lack effective solutions it is usually because we are avoiding uncomfortable conversations.”

Taking on these uncomfortable conversations will inevitably cause leaders to engage with various community participants: community officials, families, churches, industry professionals, and other legislators. These engagements will bring understanding and naturally community-driven solutions.

Simply put, community problems require community engagement. Community engagement brings community solutions. Community solutions bring community prosperity. We applaud and encourage community officials who initiate difficult conversations in the hopes of resolving family health and Salt Lake County problems.


All in all, Utah is doing incredibly well in regard to family prosperity. FPI authors wrote, “[I]t’s not even a close race with Utah’s dominating performance on the FPI across nearly every major index.”1

Utah holds a high standard for true prosperity. It leads the nation because Utah residents understand the family is the economic engine of society. The stronger the family, the stronger the engine, and the further Utah will go amid whatever lies ahead. As legislators look to resolve Utah’s unique struggles, a prosperous and enduring community will result. Such endurance and strength only comes through sustaining core principles, ones that Sutherland is committed to uphold.



  1. P. Warcholik and J.S. Moody, Utah Family Prosperity Index, January 2017, American Conservative Union Foundation, website.
  2. “Complete Health Indicator Report of Suicide,” July 15, 2016, accessed January 12, 2017,
  3. L. Price, “Utah officials unsure why youth suicide has nearly tripled since 2007,” Salt Lake Tribune, July 3, 2016,


Poster map of United States of America with state names. Print map of USA for t-shirt, poster or geographic themes. Hand-drawn colorful map with states. Vector Illustration

Federal funding: far from free

Recently, the Tax Foundation released a study showing which states rely most on federal aid and what percentage of their budgets come from these federal dollars.

States receive a significant amount of assistance from the federal government in the form of federal grants-in-aid. In fact, when averaged together state governments relied on federal money for almost one-third of their general revenue in 2014.



This dependence diminishes local priorities in favor of national special interests, incentivizes unnecessary spending at the state and local levels, mandates burdensome regulations, and leaves states vulnerable to future federal spending crises. Simply put, these dollars aren’t free – and the economic, social and financial costs are passed along to taxpayers.

Sutherland Institute wrote an article a year ago about the negative consequences of federal aid in an op-ed in the Daily Herald titled The Myth of Free Federal Money:

“No such thing as a free lunch.”

“If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

“You don’t get something for nothing.”

We know all this. Yet the allure of “buy one, get one free!” “no money down!” and “get 6 months free!” still draws us in.

We see this natural impulse at work when “free” federal money is offered to our elected officials. With billions of tax dollars dangling in front of state and local governments, the sales pitch of better schools, stimulated economies and improved roads usually proves too enticing to turn away.

Unfortunately, this promise is based on a misconception. Federal funding isn’t free at all. In fact, according to new research, it costs Utah taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars per year.

A new study from Economics International (EI) reports that each additional dollar of federal grant money to the states is associated with an average increase of 82 cents in new state and local taxes.

In Utah, the extra tax burden from every dollar of federal funding is 72 cents. To illustrate, a hypothetical 10 percent increase in federal grants to Utah ($560 million) would be associated with approximately $400 million more in spending from state and local government — an additional tax burden of about $140 per Utahn.

That’s slightly below the national average, but it is cause for genuine concern. It means Utah’s elected officials are being manipulated by the federal government into increasing the financial burden on Utah taxpayers in ways they wouldn’t do otherwise.

We encourage the public and policymakers to reread this op-ed and reject federal funding’s empty promises.

Conservative focus on helping vulnerable is long overdue – Conservatively Speaking, 9/2/14

Senator Mike Lee holds a discussion at Sutherland offices about poverty.

Senator Mike Lee holds a discussion at Sutherland offices about poverty.

This post is a transcript of a 4-minute weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations.

For conservatives, poverty and eroding economic security for middle income families are not simply social problems, but moral problems as well. Beyond the economic and budget struggles poverty creates, we have an “obligation to help the vulnerable,” to borrow from Arthur Brooks at the American Enterprise Institute. And the lack of ability to enter and remain in the middle class diminishes the meaning and value of freedom for society, not to mention inviting greater dangers by suggesting to people that a free society is perhaps not in their best interests.

Because of the social and moral problems presented by poverty and middle-class insecurity, various political and intellectual conservatives have begun proposing new policy approaches to these issues. For instance, the American Enterprise Institute recently published a compilation of work in a booklet called “Poverty in America, and What to Do About It.” Congressman Paul Ryan published a draft report from the House Budget Committee titled “Expanding Opportunity in America.” And our own U.S. Senator Mike Lee just released a booklet titled “An Agenda for Our Time” detailing his approach to what he calls “the opportunity crisis” faced by the poor and middle class in America.

The renewed focus on poverty and middle-class issues on the right is long overdue. While charitable giving and volunteerism are indisputably good things espoused by conservatives, events such as the recession and the weak economic recovery illustrate that they simply are not enough in the face of a weak economy. A consequence of conservatives’ praise of markets and civil society has been to leave welfare policy largely to the political left, which has turned into unending promises for economic salvation, combined with an unending inability to do much for the poor. Read more

Sen. Lee, community leaders hold poverty roundtable at Sutherland offices

Senator Mike Lee holds a discussion at Sutherland offices.

Senator Mike Lee holds a discussion on Monday about poverty-fighting strategies.

Utah Senator Mike Lee met with several Utah community leaders at Sutherland Institute’s office in Salt Lake City earlier this week to discuss issues surrounding poverty and potential legislation to address these issues.

The roundtable included representatives from Utah Department of Workforce Services, Calvary Baptist Church, Utah Food Bank, 4th Street Clinic, United Way and Standing Together.

With Sen. Lee, the group discussed changes in federal and state policy to remove barriers that trap people in poverty and make upward mobility all but impossible.  Topics included welfare reform, access to quality affordable health care, removing anti-marriage biases in federal policy, ways to help keep families intact, increasing educational opportunities, and Medicaid reform.

Click here to watch the video of the roundtable.

Fight poverty with community: 'Bring them in'

Holding_HandsIn a beautifully phrased speech last month, Sen. Mike Lee laid out an optimistic, conservative view of America’s fight against poverty:

What makes America exceptional – and life worth living – is not simply individual freedom, but the heroic, empowering communities that free individuals form.

Free enterprise and civil society operate in the natural human space – between the isolated individual and the impersonal state – where we live, and love, and flourish… where everyone can earn a good living and build a good life… where the strong and the vulnerable alike can pursue their happiness, and find it … together. …

[I]n America’s original war on poverty, government did not give the poor other people’s money. It gave them access to other people. …

Properly considered, then, the war on poverty is not so much about lifting people up. It’s about bringing people in.

Read more

Hey kid, want to go from rags to riches? Move to S.L.

Happy_group_of_children_playingWhere do you think a child from a low-income family would have the best chance of moving into the upper 20 percent of the “national income distribution”? New York? Seattle? Las Vegas?

It’s the Salt Lake City metro area.

In this post, W. Bradford Wilcox points out a recent study by Harvard and UC-Berkeley:

[O]ut of the largest 100 metropolitan regions in the country, the Salt Lake City area is best at promoting absolute economic mobility for lower-income children and embodying the Horatio Alger story.

He adds,

What accounts for the area’s success? The study does not specifically focus on Salt Lake’s comparative advantage for kids, but it does suggest two factors that are key to fostering income mobility for children around the United States: family and civil society. Specifically, the Harvard-Berkeley study that the New York Times called the “most detailed portrait of income mobility in the United States” found that the most powerful (negative) correlate of such mobility was the share of single moms in a region. This means that children were most likely to realize the American dream when they came from regions—like the Salt Lake City area—with comparatively strong families.

Read the rest of Wilcox’s post here at the Family Studies blog. He also adapted it for the Deseret News here.

Poverty’s elephant in the room

One core advantage of religious and other private charity over government welfare is that it is more likely to address the elephant in the room in discussions of poverty: marriage and family structure.

The Department of Workforce Services report on intergenerational poverty, released Sept. 28, notes correlations between intergenerational poverty and family structure:

  • “One in every 20 intergenerational teen girls (ages 13 to 17) was pregnant during SFY 12.”
  • “Most intergenerational adults are unmarried females with children.”

This is consistent with a body of empirical data that establishes three points.

First, fragile family structure, especially the failure of marriage at the outset of childbearing or divorce afterwards, is associated with increased poverty risk. Read more

Intergenerational poverty, taxation and the Scrooge response

Earlier this week I spoke at an important conference on intergenerational poverty in Salt Lake City. Karen Crompton of Voices for Utah Children and State Senator Stuart Reid organized the conference and invited my participation as a follow-up to Senator Reid’s legislation on the topic.

My remarks drew on a passage from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, when Scrooge was invited to to “make some slight provision for the Poor and destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time. Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir.” Scrooge’s response?

“Are there no prisons?” asked Scrooge.

“Plenty of prisons,” said the gentleman, laying down the pen again.

“And the Union workhouses?” demanded Scrooge. “Are they still in operation?”

“They are. Still,” returned the gentleman, “I wish I could say they were not.” Read more