[Hpn] More Middle-Class Utah Families Going Broke

chance martin streetsheet@sf-homeless-coalition.org
Thu, 18 Oct 2001 14:18:52 -0700


http://www.sltrib.com:80/10172001/utah/140998.htm

More Middle-Class Utah Families Going Broke
Wednesday, October 17, 2001
    
BY ASHLEY ESTES BROUGHTON
THE SALT LAKE TRIBUNE

Utah's charitable organizations are increasingly helping middle-class
families as well as the poor -- providing housing assistance, emergency food
and other services, according to a University of Utah study.

That points to the "dire economic impact" of layoffs, corporate and
organizational restructuring, underemployment and job displacement on
middle-class Americans, said the study, released Tuesday. While layoffs may
be reflected in economic indicators, the other situations are not.

"This is a national issue," said Laurie DiPadova, policy fellow at the U.'s
Center for Public Policy and Administration. The center researched Utah's
charitable organizations from November 1999 through mid-2000 -- before the
national economy began a serious downturn.

"When you go from $60,000 a year to $25,000 a year, and you're trying to
find a minimum-wage job or a service industry job . . . that's a crisis. You
can lose your house that way. You can lose your medical benefits," DiPadova
said. 

"When in need, most middle-class families turn to their credit lines," she
said -- which may be a factor in Utah's high bankruptcy rate. "They're very
embarrassed. People used to volunteer at food pantries. Now they go to food
pantries." 

Rachel Fischbein, food pantry director at Crossroads Urban Center, said more
families who fall "between the working poor and the middle class" --
families who make too much to qualify for assistance -- have sought services
within the past year.

"Their rents are up so much," she said. "You pay your rent and your bills,
and there's nothing left."

The findings on middle-class Utahns were a new development in the study,
which was aimed at examining the impact of welfare reform on Utah's
charitable organizations, including those that are religious-based.
Respondents to the survey, who represent about 220 organizations, made up
about one-ninth of the state's charitable leaders and organizations. Those
groups alone reported serving more than 788,000 people a year.

While some families were served multiple times by one or more organizations,
it is clear the organizations serve a vast number of people -- about
one-third of Utah's population, DiPadova said.

The organizations reported their clients' problems and needs tend to be more
complex and desperate, a trend they date to 1996 and the implementation of
welfare reform. That is the year Utah placed a three-year lifetime limit on
government aid. Those limits began expiring Dec. 31, 1999, DiPadova said.

Those in need typically turn to charitable welfare groups before requesting
government aid, possibly because of the time limits, the study said. In
addition, the restrictions may send people into more perilous situations --
a woman whose aid has run out and has limited options, for example, might
return to an abusive situation, DiPadova said.

Others seeking aid include increasing numbers of immigrants, working single
mothers, unmarried couples living together, senior citizens and people under
18 requesting rental assistance.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which provides two-thirds
of Utah's charitable welfare aid, was not surveyed.

Representatives of other faiths, who responded anonymously to the survey,
said that they have difficulty deciding who should receive aid and that they
worry about distributing their agencies' limited assistance to those who
might be scamming the system.

"I have been the pastor of a center-city, urban church in California," one
pastor wrote. "My first assessment is to determine if the person is a 'pro'
trying to hustle me. In our setting they almost always are 'pros.' "

Religious leaders might be more wary of those who are not members of their
congregations, DiPadova said, which places homeless or transient people at a
disadvantage. 

Previous research has shown that 87 percent of Utahns who leave the welfare
rolls join the ranks of the working poor, DiPadova said. "We have this image
that somehow they leave welfare and have a wonderful career," she said.
"That's very rare. It takes effort. It doesn't happen naturally."

aebroughton@sltrib.com
 
 Copyright 2001, The Salt Lake Tribune

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