Poverty across the USA is a systematic problem that touches all walks of life, including people in your own community. Consider your thoughts each time you see a homeless person. Have you ever wondered if they are on drugs or why don’t they just get a job?

Poverty is most commonly defined as lacking financial resources. The Federal Poverty Guidelines  is how most public assistance is determined. For a family of four, earning less than $24,000 per year, they are considered 100% below the poverty line. The problem with this definition is that is doesn’t account for things such as lack of reliable transportation, mental and physical health, social capital, and emotional stress.

homeless and hungry sign

Here are nine important questions you may have asked about poverty and some insights to get you thinking.

Question #1: Why Does Poverty Still Exist?
Unfortunately, the cycle of poverty is nearly impossible to climb out of, especially for those born into it. There are several factors that contribute to why poverty still exists. The economy, cost of living, education, wages, health insurance, housing, transportation, and mental health all play a role. One of the biggest barriers for self sufficiency is what’s known as The Cliff Effect. This is where they lose their assistance faster than they can make up the difference. Check out this great video.

Question #2: Isn’t Poverty a Choice?
Living in poverty is often not a choice for many people. The majority of those in poverty are working very hard to get out, especially here in Utah County. Some are born into it (intergenerational poverty) and end up sacrifice schooling and other opportunities to just help their family survive. Others fall into it after an unexpected medical emergency or other unforeseen circumstance (situational poverty). They work hard at often stressful, low paying jobs that barely pay the rent. People with disabilities, single parents, international students, veterans and even maybe your next door neighbor all have their own insurmountable barriers whether visible or not. That’s why everything we do at Community Action is centered around providing the education, resources and support to achieve self-reliance.

Question #3: Is Poverty an Issue In Utah County?
Yes, the fact is 14% of Utah County lives in Poverty. This means that there are over 70,000 of our own neighbors and friends struggling to make ends meet, including 22,000 children. We see the faces of young families, single moms, and seniors enter our doors every day. This not only impacts them, but our community as a whole. It impacts our schools, jobs, housing market, healthcare and future generations.

Question #4: Aren’t Most Homeless People Drug Addicts?
Granted, the high toll drugs take on people’s lives can often lead to chronic homelessness, not everyone who is homeless has problems with drug abuse. Homelessness in Utah County looks very different that you might imagine. Most of Utah residents struggling with homelessness are what are referred to a vicariously housed. This means they are not necessarily living on the street but 14 days away from being evicted or are doubled up in a home somewhere. They might be facing eviction, living with a friend for a limited amount of time, paying for a motel until they can find affordable housing. While chronic homelessness is an issue in Utah County, precariously housed is the bigger issue. We recommend checking out this study for further understanding.

Question #5: Doesn’t The LDS Church Take Care of Everything?
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints does their part to help people in need and they do a really good job. Despite their incredible efforts, there are people who have needs not met by the LDS Church Welfare system. They recognize this and partner with many organization that have similar missions. The LDS Church also refers people to local organization like Community Action Services and Food Bank. It’s a personal decision when it comes to how and when you give. Do your research about the causes you care about and see if you have something to offer.

Question #6: Aren’t People On Welfare Just Lazy?
No, in fact they are often some of the hardest working. They are master problem solvers, creative, and can survive in circumstance that many of us could barely function. They are often forced to make difficult decisions such as having heat in the winter or paying rent. It might surprise you to know that an estimated 73 percent of welfare recipients are actually working families that are struggling to make ends.

Question #7: Why Aren’t My Tax Dollars Doing More?
The fact of the matter is that it’s complicated. The federal tax that people pay is supposed to fund public services. According to the Center On Budget and Policy Priorities, it’s split between public programs like Social Security, Medicare, defense of our country, international assistance, and other safety net programs that provide assistance to families. It may seem like an endless amount of money, but it’s spread thin between many places. A way that you can take change of the situation is to donate directly to organizations that you feel make a difference.

Question #8: What Does Generational Poverty Mean?
Generational poverty is defined as a family living in poverty for two or more generations. The state report on inter-generational poverty shows that nearly 290,000 kids are at risk of a life on welfare if nothing is done. Lieutenant Governor Spencer Cox weighs in on how important this issue is in this article. The sad fact is that for many families getting out of poverty is a full time job. Hopefully with more assistance programs aimed at improving the education of our youth, with more opportunities to go to college, eventually this type of poverty will be eliminated. That’s the goal to end generational poverty. Utah specifically has a five and ten year plan to get rid of inter-generational poverty which you can read in their 20 page plan for a stronger future.

Question #9: How Can I Help?
This is probably the absolute best question you can ask! The best thing you can do is do your research and act. Educate yourself on the needs in your own community and find an organization that matches your passion. Go to city council meetings, be informed about the regulations in question, talk to your neighbors, schools, and find out the issues on the minds of those with low-income. At Community Action Services and Food Bank we are always looking for passionate people willing to give through time, in-kind donations or monetary donations. You can visit the site to find out how you can do more to help those in great need.