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'The new Utah' demographic report says we're growing, more diverse and facing some big challenges

Posted at 3:47 PM, Oct 09, 2023

SALT LAKE CITY — A major new demographic and economic report released on Monday shows significant changes in Utah.

The report, prepared by the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute at the University of Utah, said the state is now 30th in population size, making us a mid-sized state with 61% of our growth now coming from out-of-state migration. Utah is aging, becoming more multicultural with a powerful economy but an affordable housing crisis.

"We do have an aging population and a diversifying population," said Natalie Gochnour, the director of the Gardner Policy Institute. "And I will also add, it’s not in the report, an urbanizing population."

In fact, 23.3% of Utah's population now is made up of racial and ethnic minorities. It's a significant jump from 9.5% in 1990 and places Utah on par with Pennsylvania in terms of minority populations. The largest minority population in our state is now Hispanic/Latino with just over 15%.

Rosalba Dominguez said she can see a little of herself in the report.

"The demographic is changing and that landscape in terms of diverse communities is growing," the Murray City Council member said in an interview with FOX 13 News.

She has observed demographic changes within her own community pointing to Utah becoming more diverse with different perspectives on things.

"I've seen it. In my community it's definitely grown... I always like to tell people even though we're all Brown we all don’t think alike, we all have different backgrounds and makeups," Dominguez said. "Whether that be with religion or how we raise our families, just how we got here, that origin story is also very important."

The report, titled "The New Utah," finds that the state's birth rate has declined for the past 14 years. From 2000-2020, 66% of Utah's population was linked to births. In 2021-2022, that number dropped to 39%. Now the majority of Utah's population growth comes from migration. The data collected by the Gardner Policy Institute finds Utah's migration is coming from California (16.6%), Texas (7.2%) and Idaho (6.6%).

The state's population is aging. In 2010, 9% of Utah was over age 65. By 2050? It is projected to be 20%.

"When you have an aging population? It’s going to change the state budget. When you have a high growth state? It’s going to require investment in water, transportation, transit and the like," said Gochnour.

While Utah continues to have what the institute termed an "elite" economy with a low unemployment rate and high job growth (withstanding recessions and pandemics), we do have some major problems that need to be addressed. The report specifically called out Utah's lack of affordable housing and said it presents a "major economic risk."

"I own my own home so I benefit from high housing prices," said Phil Dean, the chief economist for the institute. "But my kids and grandkids, they suffer from that."

Dominguez said housing affordability and development are top issues she hears from constituents about as she's encountered families who have multiple generations living under one roof. On the city council, Dominguez said she has pushed new developments to consider "mixed income" housing instead of just going for a market rate. It's where there are places set aside for low income, middle income and market rate.

"That really creates opportunity for those mixed incomes to be in development and that also includes elders. We are a multi-generational family community within Murray City," she said.

The report certainly gives policymakers and political leaders across Utah a lot of food for thought. Gochnour highlighted issues the state must address including water and the Great Salt Lake, mental health, traffic and air quality, livability, labor shortages and even rural Utah needs.

But Gochnour also cautioned politicians to consider Utah's changing demographics when deciding policy.

"We're encouraging people to keep an open mind, really listen more," she told FOX 13 News. "When the people have changed in our state, we have more voices. Listen more. We're encouraging people to unify and dignify. Because if we’re just about division like most of the rest our country, we’re going to have a hard time adjusting to these new realities in our state."

Read the report here: