Utah’s diversity increasing, study says

By Niccolo Barber, Staff Writer

Within the next 40 years, minorities will comprise nearly half of Utah’s population, largely due to a gradually expanding economy.

U professor Pamela Perlich, the senior research economist for the U’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research, examined the demographical change taking place in Utah in a recent study in which she analyzed census data to determine the factors influencing Utah’s growing diversity.

“Utah is in the midst of an unprecedented economic, demographic and cultural transformation that has its origins in national and international trends,” Perlich said. “The cumulative impact of these trends is that Utah, along with the rest of the nation, will continue to become much more diverse in many ways, including age, culture, language, nativity, race, ethnicity, religion and socioeconomics.”

According to the study, racial and ethnic minorities comprise 18 percent of Utah’s total population right now. This is a generational shift, as nearly one-fourth of preschoolers in Utah are racial or ethnic minorities while less than 10 percent of retirees in the state are. The study estimated that minorities will compose 41 percent of Salt Lake City’s population in 2050 and 54 percent of the United States’ population.

The study reported that this increase in diversity is largely the effect of economic changes in the past decades. In the 1970s, Utah’s economy was primarily mining, federal defense and some agricultural occupations.

However, since the 1980s, the state has developed a more diversified economy in tourism, biomedicine, technology and research. An expanded economy has brought a variety of immigrants to the state.

“Labor market conditions and new job creation have a large effect on demographic change,” Perlich said.

With a dramatic increase in globalization, Utah and the United States have been forced to keep up with global competition in the economic sectors, she said.

“Our country attracts the best, brightest and hardest workers from around the world,” Perlich said. “Our economic boom of the past 15 years has greatly increased our nation’s racial and ethnic diversity.”

Thomas Maloney, an associate professor in the economics department, agreed with Perlich’s deductions.

“Clearly, Utah and the Salt Lake County have become magnets for immigration population,” Maloney said, attributing this influx to Utah’s strong construction industry, which tends to employ large numbers of immigrants.

The study also examined trends in age diversity within Utah, noting that the population rate of older age groups is going to increase. As the baby boomer generation retires and people continue to live longer, the population age 60 and above will soon exceed the youth population.

Perlich said this has huge implications for Utah. The next generation of adults will carry the burden of an increased elderly population as well as supporting the highest youth rate per capita of any state in the nation.

According to the study, all demographic changes will have dramatic implications. Utah and the nation of the future will be much more diverse in language, culture, religion and age. Perlich said she believes Utah needs to focus on building the kinds of cities, housing and social systems that will create a cohesive and supportive society.

“This cannot be accomplished by looking backwards,” Perlich said. “The structure of our state is no longer the white family with four kids. If we develop our state with that kind of picture in mind, we’re setting ourselves up for failure in the future.”

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