As the Governor’s Office of Economic Opportunity touts, Utah ranks number one in the nation for the best economy, GDP growth, economic outlook, the middle class, and more. Utah certainly is doing well in many areas when compared to the other states, and this success does help with poverty alleviation. For example, the average poverty rate among the states is 12.2%, whereas the poverty rate in Utah is 8.8%. But there is only so much a strong and free economy can do.
Moreover, comparing Utah to other states (something we love to do), and patting ourselves on the back for being better than the others, shouldn’t be the goal and isn’t enough–we should do everything we can to alleviate poverty regardless of what other states are doing. 8.8% of Utahns living in poverty means that 280,000 of our family members, friends, and neighbors live in poverty, even with our great economy. That is a tragedy, and we can do more.
Importantly, we also need to remember that the poverty rate in many of Utah’s counties is much higher. In fact, 21.9% of the residents in San Juan County live in poverty, which is higher than the poverty rate in Uganda, Costa Rica, and Cambodia. The poverty rate of twelve other counties in Utah exceeds 10%, including the next highest three Carbon (16.4%), Piute (15.7%), and Duchesne (14.2%). It’s problematic to claim we are doing enough when this many people in our state are suffering.
We need to focus less on how we are doing compared to other states, and less on how the state is bringing in higher paying jobs for the middle and upper classes. Our focus needs to shift to what we can do to lift our own neighbors who are suffering from poverty to self-reliance and prosperity. These are some points that Curtis Blair, CEO of the Utah Valley Chamber of Commerce recently pointed out at the Circles kNOw Poverty Summit.
This isn’t to say we shouldn’t be very happy about the overall economic strength of our state and continue to keep it strong–that success provides opportunity for many people to move up and improve their career–but many people need more help than general structure of a strong economy can provide. We can do better in helping the hundreds of thousands of Utahns who are poor rise to achieve success and become self-reliant.
As Governor Herbert often said, “We can’t rest on our laurels”–we need to do better. Our mission is to help identify ways we can change public policy to help lift those who are poor. We hope you will continue to help us advance those ideas by sharing them with others.