US Census data reveals Utah’s triumphs and shortcomings for children
Children at the Creative Learning Academy listen to Lieutenant Governor Deidre Henderson read them a book in Salt Lake City. Data released by the US Census Bureau in September revealed new findings on local and federal poverty levels and rates of uninsured children. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)
Estimated reading time: 4-5 minutes
SALT LAKE CITY – The state of Utah is often considered family-centric, with the highest number of children per capita. New data released by the US Census Bureau shows where the state has triumphed and failed on behalf of its children.
Children nationwide saw a decrease in child poverty rates and an increase in health insurance in 2021, according to the US Census Bureau. The data revealed that child poverty has fallen to its lowest level on record – from 9.7% in 2020 to 5.2% in 2021, when calculated by the supplementary measure of poverty.
When measured by the official poverty measure, child poverty decreased by 0.7 percentage points, from 16.0% to 15.3%. The official measure of poverty is calculated by the income of a person or a family set at thresholds which can vary according to the size of the family and the age of its members. The calculation does not include in-kind benefits such as nutritional assistance, housing and energy programs, or regional cost differences.
The different methods of calculating poverty can create difficulties when comparing state data.
We do better than any other state in the country for kids and that’s something I think all Utahans can be proud of.
–Matthew Weinstein, director of Voices for Utah Children
“You get valid results at the national level, but not at the state level – especially in a small state like Utah, where we’re about half the size of the average state. That’s so where we don’t have good single-year data to know what impact the expansion of the child tax credit in Utah has had,” said Matthew Weinstein, director of priority partnership for the state. of Voices for Utah Children.
Recent data calculated at the state level revealed that Utah has the second lowest poverty rate nationally at 8.6% and the lowest in the country for children at 8.1%, according to the data collected in the 2021 U.S. Community Survey. The total numbers placed 281,763 Utahns, including 76,102 children, below the overall poverty line.
“It’s still…it’s big numbers, but it’s something that we can really feel very good about. We’re doing better than every other state in the country for kids and that’s something for every Utahn whose I think I’m proud,” Weinstein said.
So what makes Utah different when it comes to kids?
Utah has the nation’s highest percentage of children growing up in married-couple households, as opposed to single-parent households — with just 19% of children residing in a single-parent household, according to 2019 census data. single-parent households are exposed to the risk of poverty if we consider the median household income.
The cultural values placed on marriage and family provided a “huge advantage” when weighing poverty numbers, Weinstein said. Utah ranked 11th overall for median household income in 2021, a ranking it largely attributes to dual-income households.
“Because we’re not a high-wage state, our median hourly wages are below the national average…that wonderful Beehive work ethic combines with our strong commitment to marriage and family to give us those huge cultural advantages when it comes to poverty and child poverty and our overall household income level,” Weinstein said.
Although Utah has triumphed in many ways on behalf of its children, there is still room for improvement.
The American Community Survey found that 84% of low-income children in Utah who qualified for Medicaid in 2021 were unenrolled — the highest rate nationwide of the 36 states to expand Medicaid.
Although the number of people enrolled in Medicaid increased in January 2022, this number is unlikely to last. The surge in enrollment is largely attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic and the declaration of a public health emergency. Congress increased funding for Medicaid and passed laws to prevent individuals from losing their Medicaid coverage during the national health emergency.
The changes were also reflected nationally, with the child uninsured rate decreasing by 0.6 percentage points to 5.0% between 2020 and 2021, likely due to increased access to programs.
Now that President Joe Biden has declared the “pandemic over,” the public health emergency is set to expire, leaving Utah’s children vulnerable.
“When the (public health emergency) ends, that’s when I think we’ll see real change, and that’s something that keeps me awake at night – what will be the impact?” said Jessie Mandle, associate director and senior health policy analyst at Voices for Utah Children.
Although Mandle views providing insurance for every child statewide as “the right thing to do for our children,” it’s also cost-effective, she argued.
“Without this basic health insurance base, they’re really already at a disadvantage. We’re already creating more barriers for children to thrive,” Mandle said. “Health insurance is so essential for children and to be able to help them not only in the short term, but also for their long-term health, as well as for their real academic success and even their economic results later in life.
“Our state and local governments spend nearly $9 million each year on unpaid pediatric care and that’s more than it would cost than the bill to cover all children,” she said. “It’s so critical that we meet this moment. I really just, that’s my hope, is that our heads of state will see this.”