April 1, 2012

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Count Us In

What the 2010 Census Reveals About Utah

Tom Haraldsen

April 1, 2012

The U. S. Census has been taken every 10 years since 1790—the same year President George Washington delivered the nation’s first “State of the Union” speech. That census consisted of six questions, was conducted by 650 “enumerators,” and revealed the nation’s population was just under 4 million.

Fast forward to 2000, when the United States had a population of 281.4 million and census takers and staff totaled 550,000.

The census consisted of seven questions on a short form and 52 on a long form. And so the growth has continued, and a wealth of information has been amassed over the decades.

Then came 2010—and things changed. Renewed efforts to get U.S. residents to participate in the census led to the creation of a simplified 10-question survey. And a cast of 635,000 enumerators worked to capture a snapshot of the nation’s populace. Census purists and research analysts are conflicted as to much of the census’ effectiveness, but it certainly served to verify what many of them already knew: that the nation continued to grow at a steady rate of nearly 10 percent, and that the fastest-growing states population-wise were here in the West—namely Arizona, Nevada and Utah.

“It really confirmed what we knew was happening,” says Pamela Perlich, senior research economist for the Bureau of Economic and Business Research at the David Eccles School of Business, University of Utah. “None of what we saw was a surprise. And the trends of population diversity in Utah are mirroring those of the nation as a whole.”

The Age of Diversity
Perlich, along with John C. Downen, senior research analyst at the Eccles School of Business, co-authored a study on the census for the Utah Economic and Business Review. Quoting from that study:

“Utah, along with the rest of the nation, is becoming more ethnically and racially diverse, with much of this diversity resulting from recent immigrants and their children. In the 2010 Census, over one-third of the nation’s population is classified as minority, while Utah’s share reached one-fifth. Nationally, the adult population is 33 percent minority while youth are nearly “minority majority,” with a 47 percent share.

“In Utah, minorities are 17.4 percent of the adult population and nearly one-fourth of youth. Nationally, 92 percent of the population growth from 2000 to 2010 came from an increase in the minority population, while the contribution in Utah was 40 percent.”

The significance of those figures is simple: “The age of diversity is sweeping across both Utah and the nation,” Perlich says. “Our schools are seeing the change.”

Nationwide, 25 percent of preschoolers are considered minorities, and in Salt Lake County, that number is 35 percent. In Salt Lake City proper, minorities make up 50 percent of preschoolers.

“Those are areas where we’re ahead of the national trends,” she says. “These are generational shifts—they aren’t reversible—and they create incredible opportunities for our state that we’ve never seen before.”

Today, estimates are that 117 different languages are spoken in Utah, giving the state a potentially new and stronger reach into the global economy and culture.

“Now, we’re seeing young people moving here from abroad, and not just sending them out,” Perlich says. “This generation has new thinking—they are adverse to the stock market or going into debt. They read that 30 percent of mortgage holders in Utah are under water and don’t want that for themselves. We’re really at a crossroads of a new era. Looking to the future through the lenses of the past won’t work. Unless we’re in touch with the changes that are occurring among our youth—we could really miss out on the opportunities ahead of us. What’s worked for past generations doesn’t work for future ones.”

A Booming Population
Perlich says the narrowly stated purpose of the U.S. Census is to reapportion Congress, and in fact Utah did pick up a new representative as the result of the 2010 numbers (that 4th Congressional seat is part of this fall’s general election). But it’s much more than that.

“On local levels, we get a picture every 10 years of our demographics,” she says. But she shares concerns with many fellow economists and analysts that the 2010 survey was too simple, too short on questions, particularly compared to the censuses of the past 220 years.

And the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS), created in the mid-1990s but modified every year since, became a larger player. It was mailed to around 3 million homes that year, asking some of the same questions previously asked in the census’ long form. This survey broke down such statistics as employee trades by category, methods for commuting to and from work, and questions about lifestyles and family compositions.

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