SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) — Utah has hit an inflection point, according to the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute at the University of Utah. The state has seen incredible growth and a continually strengthening economy but is also seeing a declining fertility rate and even more unaffordable housing.
The Policy Institute says the findings of the “New Utah” provide state leaders with information regarding Utah’s ever-changing demographics. The information can act as a guide for public policies and shape a “New Utah strategy.”
“Demographic and economic changes have created a New Utah, which requires state and local government to be more effective, responsive, speedy and innovative to keep Utah thriving,” said Director of the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute Natalie Gochnour. “The New Utah requires bold action.”
According to the Policy Institute, Utah came out of the COVID-19 pandemic bigger and with a higher in-migration population growth and a more racially and ethnically diverse population. The state is supported by an “elite economy” but is grappling with high housing costs. The Institute said while the pandemic did not cause these transitions, it accelerated many of them.
The Institutes found that Utah jumped four states in population, transitioning the Beehive State into a “mid-sized state.” Between 2000 and 2020, Utah only saw 34% of its growth come from migration, compared to 61% in 2021 and 2022. The population is older now as well, with 9.1% of Utah’s population before being 65 or over in 2021. Projections suggest 20% of Utah’s population will be 65 or older by 2050.
The minority population has also seen exponential growth as part of the in-migration population boom.
“As recently as 1990, this percentage was one in ten,” explained the Institute. In 2022, that percentage jumped to just over two in ten. “We expect the minority share of Utah’s population to continue increasing.”
Of course, it’s not all sunshine and roses in the Beehive State. While Utah’s traditionally strong economy continues to be elite compared to other states, Utah’s supply of housing has failed to keep pace with demand. The Institute predicts high housing costs will continue into the foreseeable future, presenting a “significant challenge” for Utah’s economic competitiveness and rising generation.
So what are local leaders supposed to do?
The Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute suggests leaders keep an open mind in their policy approach. An idea that may have seemed like a good or bad idea five years ago may have changed today. With a more diverse Utah, there are more perspectives than ever before, meaning all voices need to be heard.
Utah leaders should also invest even more into future needs and find new ways of “social replenishment” to bring the community together.
“We can disagree over ideas, but we must respect every human being and offer dignity to everyone,” suggested the Institute. “We can unify behind common ideals.”
In its report, the Policy Institute said if Utah’s leaders handle Utah’s changes well, the state can bring in new levels of prosperity and continue to stand as a land of opportunity. If handled poorly, the Institute warns that future Utahns may see lower standards of living and less upward mobility.