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Report: Young Utah parents disproportionately have low income, education levels

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's 36,000 children of young adult parents are disproportionately growing up in low-income and low-education homes compared to the rest of the state, according to a new statistical report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a national children's advocacy organization.

Just 17 percent of Utah's young adult parents, defined as those between ages 18 and 24, have an associate degree or higher, the organization's Opening Doors for Young Parents report says.

Additionally, 60 percent of children of young adult parents in Utah live in low-income households, as defined by earnings of less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level, the report says. Just seven states had a lower percentage of children of young adult parents who also live in low-income households.

Of all Utahns ages 18 to 24, an estimated 11 percent are parents, the report says, closely resembling the national average of 10 percent. About 3.4 million American children live with young adult parents, and 37 percent of them live below the federal poverty level, which is "nearly twice the national child poverty rate," the report says.

"Although childbearing during the early 20s is more culturally accepted than during the teen years, outcomes for many young parents ages 18 to 24 and their children are similar to the outcomes of the even more fragile families headed by teens, fueled by a lack of employment and financial stability," the findings state.

"Young parents face today's new and rapidly changing labor market without the years of education, experience and perspective that older parents often have gained."

The report also identifies what the Annie E. Casey Foundation believes are "common-sense, effective programs and targeted policies that can help set (young parents) on the right path and help them realize their dreams for themselves and their children."

The organization's suggestions for states include full Medicaid expansion, expanded availability of child care and subsidies for such care, and improved earned income tax credit assistance.

Medicaid expansion

Utah voters will vote in November on whether to expand Medicaid eligibility to everyone in the state earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, making an estimated 150,000 people newly qualified for the federal health insurance program.

Terry Haven, deputy director of Voices for Utah Children, an advocacy organization, said Medicaid expansion would provide many young parents the stability they currently lack with regards to containing medical costs.

"We know that children are more likely to be covered if their parents are covered, so it's a win-win for everybody in the family," Haven said.

Efforts to expand Medicaid in Utah have failed in recent years in the Utah Legislature, where some have expressed qualms over its potential long-term effects on the state budget.

Child care

The Annie E. Casey Foundation report says 63 percent of young adult parents need child care services, but only 5 percent of them get a child care subsidy of some kind.

Anna Thomas, policy analyst for Voices for Utah Children, said that "at this point in Utah our subsidy program is probably stronger than it's been in a while," but that gaps in available resources still exist. For young parents who don't get to use child care subsidies, or are unaware they exist, child care "takes an enormous bite of their family income and throws up huge barriers to self-sufficiency," Thomas said.

"Some parents have to take jobs that are not ideal for them — either they don't pay enough, or they don't provide enough hours — because they are working around a precarious child care situation," she said.

Tax credits

The Internal Revenue Service describes the federal earned income tax credit, sometimes called an EITC, as "a benefit for working people who have low to moderate income."

Utah is one of 21 states that do not, on top of the federal credit, offer some kind of state earned income tax credit, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Patrice Scott, also an analyst with Voices for Utah Children, said that in the upcoming legislative session, the organization will be pushing for the creation of a limited state income tax credit that could significantly help some young parents trying to stay afloat.

"We're going to try to just get a targeted state EITC. It would target families who are considered to be in intergenerational poverty," Scott said. "It could give them up to 10 percent of their tax money back."