All those rankings that Utah's political and business leaders are so proud of business climate, best managed state, etc. are worthy of note.
But those charts do not always measure the factors that are really important in a humane civilization. They don't give a person much of a feel for what kind of a place is Utah, not just to create or manage wealth, but to live, thrive and raise a family. For that kind of knowledge, a different set of criteria is necessary, such as standards used by the Annie E. Casey Foundation in its annual KIDS COUNT Data Book.
In the 2012 edition of that report, many of Utah's trend lines are running in the wrong direction.
The number of children living in poverty in Utah, and in 42 other states, is up. In Utah, the number of children in poverty jumped by 45 percent from 2005 to 2010, representing 16 percent of the childhood population. The other factors in calculating economic well-being for Utah children Utah parents without secure employment, children in households with high housing costs, and teenagers who are neither in school nor working are also headed the wrong way.
Utah still ranks 11th overall in the KIDS COUNT table and 13th on the economic well-being scale. The state also ranks 13th in health factors, with smaller fractions of children going without health insurance and decreases in child deaths and substance abuse among teens.
Utah comes closest to the top, at No. 3, in the family and community area. But even in the ranking built on the percentage of children in single-parent households, supported by a parent who lacks at least a high school education or living in a high-poverty area, numbers are either frozen or growing.
Utah's most embarrassing ranking comes in education. We're 27th, with bad trends in children not attending pre-school, fourth graders not reading at grade level and high schoolers not graduating on time. (The number of eighth graders doing math at grade level has improved.)
The takeaway from all of this may be that the area where Utah ranks the worst education is the area that is most clearly a state, rather than a family, responsibility. And it suggests that action say, moving the state out of the bottom on the level of per-pupil spending and taxpayer effort in support of education might have the greatest impact.
Education is also the area that, left unattended, will most threaten those other, money-based rankings of business climate and state management. Absent an educated workforce and citizenry, the good numbers can't stay good forever.