Census shows poverty rate dropped in Utah, but not for all

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah's poverty rate continued to drop last year from its recession-era highs, but the recovering economy has still left some people behind, according to new data from the U.S. Census.

The state's overall poverty rate was 11.8 percent in 2014, down nearly two percentage points from three years before and below the national average.

"For Utah in general, our poverty rates are low," said Pam Perlich, director of demographic research and the University of Utah's Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute. The state tends to have a high number of two-adult households, which ups the earning potential.

But even though the state's annual median income has now risen to about $61,000, above its pre-recession levels, the percentage of people in poverty is still higher than it was back in 2007.

"This last recession was not an ordinary recession," Perlich said. "There were significant structural transformations that occurred where whole industries have disappeared."

In the emerging job market, workers with in-demand skills are doing well, but people without that kind of education are still struggling.

"There are whole groups, whole populations of people who are being left behind," Perlich said. Many are single mothers.

Along the same lines, Utah is also following a national trend that has the middle class losing ground, said Perlich. The Pew Research Center found this week that while the middle class has made up a majority of the country for more than four decades, there are now an equal number of people in the higher and lower tiers.

The data released Wednesday also shows regional differences in Utah.

For example, the poverty rate in southeastern Utah's San Juan County is 29 percent, more than double the rate in Salt Lake County, and other rural counties also show numbers higher than the state average.

In the San Juan County town of Blanding, the city manager has said that the area has struggled since the end of a uranium mining boom in the 1950s and 1960s. It's now trying to market itself as a home base to explore the natural parks nearby.

One challenge, though, is the area's remoteness. It's not along any rail lines or interstates, city manager Jeremy Redd said when the county joined a federal effort to combat generational poverty in September.

The county is also located edge of the Navajo Nation, where residents have long dealt with poverty and high unemployment.

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