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Economist: Utah must change to meet minorities' needs

Published October 3, 2013 8:03 pm

Future • Many leaders are blind to growing pockets of poverty, diversity.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

In many Salt Lake City neighborhoods, most young children now are minorities, live in poverty and speak a language other than English at home. Utah's future depends on their success, but overwhelmingly white, wealthier leaders in the state may not even realize the challenges those youth face.

"We're living in two very different worlds," Pam Perlich, senior research economist at the University of Utah, told a luncheon Thursday sponsored by the Utah Association of Latino Journalists.

She challenged journalists to show that those different worlds exist, and that institutions and services that worked well for the older, mostly white baby boom generation may not work well for today's diverse youth.

"Unless we have a recognition on the part of people in our community of these very diverse conditions from one neighborhood to the next," she said, "then we are setting up ourselves for not adequately preparing the next generation."

Perlich said that with a big wave of immigration in the 1990s and early 2000s, most growth in Salt Lake City was from minorities. For example, the capital gained about 10,750 minority residents between 2000 and 2010, while its overall population grew by only 4,700. So without minorities and immigrants, Salt Lake City would have lost population.

Perlich said half of preschoolers on the city's west side now are minorities, compared to a statewide rate of 25 percent — so statewide averages mask diversity present in many places. School data show that children in Salt Lake City report speaking 100 different languages in their homes, she said, and more than 75 percent in west side areas receive free lunch — so they live in poverty.

"We have malnutrition in Salt Lake City. We have kids who go to bed hungry. We have kids who don't have tennis shoes. Yet we have this billion-dollar plus gleaming downtown development," showing the two different world, she said.

Perlich said she makes presentations to many institutions in Utah, and leaders often either aren't aware of or believe the new diversity in key parts of the state, and do not focus on the needs of the growing population of minority residents.

"Their leadership tends to be older, white and male. And our lives take place in pretty small circles. It's not a malicious thing, but we tend to surround ourselves with people who are like us," which makes it difficult to see the needs of people who are different, she said.

"Our infrastructure of opportunity that worked really well for us old white baby boomers is no longer appropriate for the new populations that we have. And it really is all of our major institutions that are in crisis right now. Many are blind to these changes."

Perlich said an important role of the press is to highlight the changes happening and the "mismatch between those old antiquated methods that worked pretty well 40 years ago that are not working so well for the new people of today."

She said, "The future of our community really does rest on the success of this young diverse population and Hispanics are central" to it.