Identity: Status, Living with Poverty

A mom and six children sneak into the truck; they only have a laptop, a box of genealogy and one change of clothes for each person. They are running from an abusive husband and father. Escaping to the U.S. is the only way for them to be safe from the husband.

The Ramirez-Hernandez family lived in a family member’s basement when they first arrived in Sanpete. Once they were able to afford a house of their own, they moved in, even though they didn’t have any furniture besides two mattresses.

It has now been four years, and they have been able to furnish their house.

“I’m still struggling, but four years later I have a house for my kids, and I think I’m doing pretty good considering four years ago I had absolutely nothing,” the mother, Kathy Ramirez-Hernandez said.

Ramirez-Hernandez has eight kids and six of them live at home. Even though the Ramirez-Hernandez family has their own house, they are still struggling and are barely making it month to month. They are not the only family in Sanpete that is having financial struggles.

Sanpete County is in the top ten highest poverty rates for counties in Utah, but more specifically intergenerational poverty.

Low socioeconomic status is a major part of the identity of students at NS, for households and students. Whether or not it is always noticeable, poverty defines and influences the student body of NS.

“We discovered that there were two types of poverty; the first is situational poverty and that is when someone has something happen in their life: divorce, serious illness, somebody loses a job. Some sort of tragedy happens in there family, and they find themselves on welfare,” said Lt. Governor Spencer Cox. “They get on welfare, then they get off, but we discovered the second group of people and we call it intergenerational poverty.”

Intergenerational poverty is when adults are on welfare programs, and were also on them as children. In Sanpete County there is an intergenerational poverty rate of eleven percent; Sanpete is tied for seventh highest intergenerational poverty rate in the state.

The State has been trying to establish a series of programs around Utah that will help the children in the intergenerational poverty families. These programs will focus on education, family economic stability, health, and early childhood development.

“We decided if we focus on kids we have a better chance of breaking the cycle more than anything else you can do. If you get with the kids early and help them get a good education, graduate from high school, and go on to postsecondary education, the odds of them breaking the cycle of poverty increase significantly,” Cox said.

The kids in poverty are being helped by the school district, by free and reduced lunch fee waivers from preschool to highschool.

“There is absolutely no way I could do it without the fee waivers,” Ramirez-Hernandez said.

Ramirez-Hernandez works as a bus driver for the Mt. Pleasant Head Start, but during the summer she was working three jobs to make ends meet.

“I work 40 hours a week, and it’s a blessing and a curse to have only one job. On one hand, it’s nice to be with my kids more, but one job isn’t enough,” Ramirez-Hernandez said.

In the month of November Ramirez-Hernandez got her paycheck for the month, and after paying the bills she only had $50 left to pay for gas and supplementing their food.

December is even harder for her. Not only is it Christmas, which adds an extra cost, but she drives a school bus and the district has a week where there will be no school buses. Ramirez-Hernandez will basically be a week short of monthly wage because of Christmas break.

About half the school is at risk of being in poverty, and  although only around 5 percent are classified as intergenerational poverty, most are at risk, which means that they are barely above the poverty line.

“At-risk students may not have had their parents on welfare when they were kids, so they aren’t classified as intergenerational poverty students, but they have the certain risk factors: second language spoken in the home, living just barely above the poverty line, and first-generation college student.” Superintendent Samuel Ray said. “These are some factors that say these kids could use some extra help as well.”

The state is focusing more on intergenerational poverty than at-risk students and families. Utah is the only state that distinguishes between intergenerational poverty and situational poverty, and by doing this they have been able to create many programs to help intergenerational poverty families.

The state has started to provide a program for single moms. They go through an intense class preparing them to head into a medical manufacturing job. In less than a year these mothers have a full-time job with benefits.

“I got to meet some of those women going through the program, and their stories were just heartbreaking. Many of them had been abused by their husbands or boyfriends, and some of them had been kicked out of their home. One of them had been homeless, and some of them have been through drug addictions,” Cox said. “Many of them grew up in intergenerational poverty homes, and they found themselves now with hope. To watch them transition through this program and get some help for their kids, and be able to have a great job coming out the end it was really incredible to see the hope and change in their lives.”

We might not be able to give single mothers jobs, but we as a student body can change lives right in the halls, classrooms, and lunchrooms of NS. Poverty is a big part of the identity at NS, but it does not define us as people.

“Upward Mobility. Utah does this better than anywhere else in the United States, it’s where you can be born in poverty, and at the end of your life, you are successful. You can move up and down, specifically up,” Cox said.

Goals and dreams are something that can help you achieve upward mobility.

“It’s still hard, but you have to have your dreams and your goals. If you don’t have something that you’re striving for people it makes it hard for them to get out of the situation that they’re in, but if you have your goals and you do the stuff to work towards your goals you can accomplish it,” Ramirez-Hernandez said.



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