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Poor or rich?

Published May 23, 2013 1:01 am

In Utah, depends whom you ask
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated.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 an interesting study in contrasts, The Tribune Editorial Board hosted two advocacy groups on the same morning this week that could not have had more disparate perspectives on the state of Utahns' well-being.

First came four men representing the Utah Taxpayers Association and the American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC, an organization supported by big corporations that advocates for small government and free markets, was in town to present the Beehive State with a sixth No. 1 ranking in its "Rich States, Poor States" report.

The report looks at "economic performance" criteria including tax rates (low is good), minimum wage (again, low is good), average workers' compensation costs (yes, lower is better).

Minutes later, two women representing the advocacy group Utahns Against Hunger presented a different look at what might constitute "rich states" and "poor states." They reported that research by the Food Research and Action Center shows that 17 percent of all Utah households, and 23 percent of households with children, are experiencing "food hardship," defined as the inability of families to afford enough food.

Corporate Utah is doing well, the state unemployment rate is dropping and elected officials are busy creating a healthy climate for business. We applaud those achievements. But our leaders should not lose sight of the fact that the state's rankings are not as high by human standards of well-being.

A Brookings Institution Metropolitan Program study, "Confronting Suburban Poverty in America," ranks the suburban areas of three Utah cities among the top 15 in terms of fastest-growing poverty: Salt Lake City came in third with a 142 percent jump, the Provo-Orem area ranked eighth with a 129 percent increase and Ogden-Clearfield came in 14th with a bump of 105 percent.

The 2012 Kids Count Data Book indicated that from 2005 to 2010, the number of Utah children living below the federal poverty threshold — $23,050 in gross annual income for a family of four— rose from 11 percent to 16 percent, roughly a 45 percent increase.

The budget cuts under federal sequestration are causing even more Utahns to falls into the categories of the hungry and the poor. As in the rest of America, there is a growing disparity between the "haves" and the "have nots" in the Beehive State. Those at the top are increasingly well-off, while those at the bottom are falling further behind.

Rich state or poor state? Depends on whom you ask.