SHERIDAN — In February 2012, Tara Schultz found herself as a single mother to three young children, the oldest not even hitting double digits yet.
Her husband, at first they were separated and then divorced, moved out. She had spent the last seven years out of the workforce as a stay-at-home mom, and it had been 17 years since she was in school.
Statistically, the outcome predicted that Schultz would continue to struggle and her children would grow up in poverty.
In Wyoming, 18,000 children are living in hardship. Of that total, 809 live in Sheridan County, according to the 2015 research published by the Sheridan County Tripartite Board.
Most of those children are expected to stay poor as they grow into adulthood. However, Sheridan County helps buck that trend for some.
A number of factors that exist in the county give children, their parents and adults in general the ability to climb out of poverty.
In a recent study conducted by The Equality of Opportunity Project, Sheridan County ranks better than 94 percent of counties nationwide for possible upward income mobility. In fact, the study said, “It ranks better for poor children than it does for rich children.”
While rich children are projected to make more money than their parents, kids in poverty often are projected to make less. In Sheridan, though, poor children have more opportunities to climb the income ladder. According to the study, based on a number of factors, children in poverty can increase their incomes by $4,750, while their richer counterparts only expect to see a $1,670 addition.
The increase in income over time doesn’t mean that children make their way out of poverty, necessarily, but it does improve their situations.
Schultz, herself a child of a single mother, grew up in a tough financial situation in the 1980s in Sheridan. There were fewer resources available to help. Her mother made “ends meet,” Schultz said, but it wasn’t easy.
For her situation to echo her mother’s isn’t usual. However, Schultz made a decision that drastically changed the predicted trajectory of her life and her children’s.
In January 2013, Schultz started her first semester of college.
“The most recent reports show an absolute linear progression — straight up, linear progression — between education and income and it doesn’t change,” said Samin Dadelahi, CEO of the Wyoming Community Foundation. “The more people that we can get to understand [the importance of early childhood education] and that we can get educated, the better off our kids are going to be.”
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, dropouts make $180 less a week than high school graduates, and $304 a week less than an individual with an associate’s degree. That number jumps to $613 less per week when compared to a graduate with a bachelor’s degree. All of this is based in 2014 dollars.
Not only will Schultz’s decision to go to college increase the likelihood that her children will attend, but it also increases her job potential and possible income.
Education is one of five factors listed by The Equality of Opportunity Project that influence upwards mobility. The other four are: low income and race segregation, low levels of income inequality, low crime rates and a high percentage of two-parent households.
Sheridan County does well in several of those categories. Compared to national statistics, Sheridan has relatively low crime rates. The percentage of children living in single-parent homes — 35 percent — is on par with the national average. Regarding race, Sheridan County is more than 95 percent white. African American individuals make up only 1.2 percent of the county’s population, and Native Americans only make up 1.4 percent.
In May, Schultz graduated with her degree in criminal justice.
“Walking across the stage to get my diploma with my kids watching was the greatest,” she said. “That moment is forever fresh in my mind.”
Getting there was possible, in part, due to community resources and support.
With two children in grade school, Schultz was able to attend classes while her kids were in school. However, the youngest, about 4 years old at the time, went to day care, where the two older kids would show up after school.
This was only affordable due to day care assistance, a financial service provided by some facilities to cushion the cost.
Schultz also got a job through work-study while attending school and used food stamps to provide meals for her children.
Community support, Schultz said, made a huge difference in being able to finish school and support her children.
She received help from the nonprofit Sheridan Angels, which provided clothes for her kids and basic necessities like laundry detergent and soap when things got tight.
With help from services provided in Sheridan County, Schultz defeated the odds. Currently, she works for the state at the Wyoming Girls’ School.
“[My kids] didn’t really understand it, but my ultimate hope is that later in life they will look back and see the sacrifices I made for them and what I did for them and hopefully if, God forbid, any of my kids are in the situation I was in, they can look back and think ‘My mom did it, so can I,’” Schultz said.