How long you are expected to live and how much money you will earn varies in Utah, depending on your race, ethnicity and sex, according to a new report released Thursday from the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute.
The 32-page data book — requested by Utah community leaders to “assist with their equity, diversity and inclusion efforts” and sponsored by Zions Bank — spans topics from demographics to education to health to housing.
This report serves as a “collective look in the mirror” for Utahns, according to Natalie Gochnour, director of the Gardner Institute, “to help us see what we look like today, and how we can improve in the future.”
“Utah’s minority population — with a few notable exceptions, especially among the Asian population — are more likely than the white population to have less income and wealth, higher poverty rates, lower educational attainment, less homeownership and higher housing cost burdens,” Gochnour said in a virtual panel discussion about her team’s findings Thursday morning.
Meanwhile, women have lower unemployment rates, higher education enrollment rates and longer life expectancy than men in the state, but they also have lower incomes and higher rates of adult depression and asthma, the authors wrote.
The report does not offer any explanations or reasons for these disparities but rather points to a range of demographic, economic, behavioral and societal factors.
“It’s very bluntly honest,” said Byron Russell, co-chair of the Utah Multicultural Commission.
Russell said he doesn’t see the data as divisive or political but as an opportunity for different voices to come together for a conversation.
“It really wasn’t until, I think, the pandemic and then, of course, George Floyd, where these were not just academic conversations, but actual sort of moments to reflect on how it’s impacting us, not just in the disparities of those communities, but us as a whole,” he said.
Takeaways from the report
Utah currently ranks as the 34th most racially and ethnically diverse state in the nation, with 22% of the population identifying as something other than non-Hispanic, white.
The minority share of the Beehive State’s population is expected to increase, though, to one in three Utahns by 2060, with much of that growth coming from younger residents.
Even then, Utah will still lag behind the nation by about two generations. The report indicates in 2060, Utah’s minority age shares will be roughly similar to those of the U.S as a whole in 2010.
Poverty rates are highest for Black (27.2%) and Native American (27.1%) Utahns, with more than one in four people experiencing poverty.
Hispanic and Latino residents experience more than twice the poverty rates of non-Hispanic, white individuals (16.8% compared to 7.9%).
Females (10.6%) have a higher poverty percentage than males (9.0%) in Utah, while 8.9% of the total population is in poverty.
The American Indian/Alaska Native population has the highest unemployment, by far, at 10.1%. The next highest percentage was Black or African American residents (5.8%).
Business owners in Utah are most likely to be white and male.
“White and Asian students have significantly better educational outcomes than other racial/ethnic groups,” according to the report, and “disparities in early indicators of educational proficiency tend to continue through K-12.”
The percentages for Asian and white students at proficiency level in third-grade literacy, ELA (English Language Arts), mathematics and had scores of 18 or higher on the ACT are roughly twice the percentages of American Indian, Black, Hispanic and Pacific Islander students.
While high school graduation percentages are closer, white and Asian students are still the highest, at 91% and 90%, respectively.
“Females are more likely than males to have graduated high school, have some college with no degree, and to have completed a bachelor’s degree, while males are more likely to have completed a graduate or professional degree,” the report states.
There is a 10-year gap between Utah’s populations with the longest life expectancy — 87 for Asians — and the shortest life expectancy — 75.5 for Pacific Islanders.
Men have a shorter life expectancy than women in Utah by 3.5 years.
Infant mortality rates are highest among Utah’s Black, Asian and Pacific Islander populations, at more than one and a half times the rates for white residents.
Generally, 18.6% of renters in Utah pay at least 50% of their income for housing. That’s much higher for Black Utahns, who are at 31.8%. Meanwhile, 17.1% of white residents pay at least half of their income.
Utah ranks high in homeownership rates, with owners making up 70.2% of total households in the state, compared to 64.0% nationally.
“With the exception of Asians and Pacific Islanders, all other minorities have limited homeownership opportunities due to their incomes and, like most Black households are more likely to be priced out of the housing market,” according to the report.
Are there areas where Utah is doing well?
The greater Salt Lake area has the best economic mobility among the 50 largest community zones in the country, edging out Pittsburgh and San Jose, California, in the top three, according to the Gardner Institute.
According to Gochnour, Utahns’ social capital — their ability to collaborate and work well together — and a low percentage of children in single-parent families contribute to this high ranking.
The Beehive State also fares well with income equality, the report shows, when looking at an index called the Gini Coefficient.
But as “you start unraveling the details,” such as in this data book and reports of Utah’s large gender wage gap, “you can see that not everybody is benefiting from that equal income,” Gochnour said.
The report also highlights recent efforts to expand opportunities for residents, including Gov. Spencer Cox’s One Utah Roadmap and the Utah Compact on Racial Equity, Diversity and Inclusion signed by government, business and community leaders, as well as legislation passed by lawmakers last session supporting education funding.
What should Utahns do with this information?
While the data may seem “rather daunting,” Russell, of the Utah Multicultural Commission, said “we are in the right place, in the right time, with the right leaders” to create change from this benchmark outlined in the data book.
“I think homeownership is something that is workable” and “can be approached,” Russell said, including by Utah’s business community.
As he read through the report, Russell said he found it “pretty alarming” that “the Black population in Utah doesn’t have the ability to own homes to pass on to the next generation.”
“I can tell you from personal reflection and a community reflection, that matters,” he said.
Mikelle Moore, senior vice president and chief community health officer at Intermountain Healthcare, stressed that “just having access to health care is not an equalizer for health.”
“We now understand that education, income, housing … contribute greatly to people’s potential for health outcomes,” she said.
Moore said that by looking at gaps, organizations can focus their resources to make services affordable and effective for people. For instance, health care institutions like Intermountain can focus on immunization rates or mammography screening rates, which are “things that we know contribute to long-term health and actually lower health care expenditures over the long run.”
This work will require public-private partnerships, according to Gail Miller, owner and chair of the Larry H. Miller Group of Companies, as well as meeting people where they are.
In her work helping people experiencing homelessness in Utah, Miller said she’s seen how that population has been branded “as less than.”
“I think we have to come out of our comfort zones and look at people as people and do what we can to help,” she said.