Racial, ethnic and sex disparities and opportunities in Utah

The Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute released an extensive data book that reveals significant differences in economic, education, health and housing outcomes in Utah by race, ethnicity and sex. These differences, while multilayered and complex, show Utah’s minority populations (with a few notable exceptions, especially among the Asian population) are more likely to have less income and wealth, higher poverty rates, lower educational achievement and attainment, less homeownership, and higher housing cost burdens. Utah’s Asian population, which includes significant variation in disparities within the Asian population overall, measures similar or better income, unemployment rates and student achievement levels to the White population and dramatically exceeds all other race/ethnicities for the percent of the population with a bachelor’s degree. Utah health data show more variance and nuance by race and ethnicity. Some minority populations show longer life expectancies and lower rates of depression, obesity and asthma than the majority population.

The data book, which was requested by Utah community leaders and sponsored by Zions Bank, does not include explanations or causal evidence for these disparities but points to a range of complex and interrelated demographic, economic, behavioral and societal factors. The report also highlights recent actions by the governor and Legislature to expand opportunity for all Utahns and emphasizes Utah’s nation-leading social capital, family stability, income equality and social mobility as positive areas to build upon in helping Utahns thrive.

“The data book serves as an invitation for all Utahns to engage in constructive and meaningful conversations about racial, ethnic and sex disparities in Utah,” said Natalie Gochnour, director of the Gardner Institute. “The data, coupled with Utah’s many inherent strengths, will inspire a thoughtful and well-informed discourse about how to lift people and improve our state.”

In addition to the race/ethnicity data, the data book shows Utah women, among other differences, exhibit lower unemployment rates, higher education enrollment rates and longer life expectancy than men, but lower incomes and higher rates of adult depression and asthma than men.

Recent actions by state leaders and Utah strengths

In addition to presenting disparities, the report highlights recent actions by state and community leaders and several of the Beehive State’s strengths.

Gov. Spencer J. Cox made equality and opportunity one of his six major priorities in his strategic plan, the One Utah Roadmap. In addition, prior to its 2021 general session, the Legislature prioritized extending economic opportunity for all as one of three pillars of policy focus. As a result, lawmakers sent several bills to the governor’s desk that reduced taxes for Utah families, expanded health insurance for Utah children, made record investments in affordable housing, as well as additional actions that broaden access to resources in health, education and housing. The legislature also made significant investments in public education, including funding enrollment growth and inflation, as well as restoring a 6% increase in per-student funding and funding $121 million for teacher bonuses.

The report also presents Utah’s high levels of social capital, family stability, income equality and social mobility as valuable state assets that can help address disparities and improve people’s lives.

After reviewing the data book’s findings, Cox said, “As former chair of the Multi-Cultural Commission, I’ve been in many discussions about disparities in housing, health and education, but we didn’t have much firm data to back up the anecdotes and assumptions. Now we do, and as this report shows, we have a lot of work to do. This data is urgently needed and crucial to helping us find policy solutions that will help all Utahns prosper and broaden opportunities for everyone.”

Legislative leaders also commented:

“Smart policy starts with sound data,” said Speaker Brad Wilson. “The Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute has provided us with invaluable analysis that will undoubtedly serve as a springboard to meaningful discussion and, ultimately, better policy outcomes in the years ahead.”

Senate President Stuart Adams also commented, “In major policy issues, Utah takes a distinctive approach that is driven by thoughtful dialogue, meaningful collaboration and credible data. This data will help support the Utah way of approaching challenges and fostering opportunity.”

“The institute’s data book offers a comprehensive opportunity to better understand some of the inequitable realities that Utah’s minority populations face,” said Senate Minority Whip Luz Escamilla. “Having a greater understanding of these significant disparities is fundamental to effective policymaking and can facilitate upward mobility once concentrated into action. This data is critical to building future success for the entire state of Utah.”

“This data book is another example of how Utah leads,” said Rep. Francis Gibson, House Majority Leader, who reviewed an early version of the report. “Data is important and to make improvements we need to know where we stand. We are making important strides, but there is room for improvement for parts of our underserved populations.”

Rep. Sandra Hollins said, “There is significant community commitment and engagement on this topic as evidenced by the Utah Compact on Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion. This report will inform and strengthen our commitment.”


Additional reactions to the data book

The Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute also received helpful feedback and comments on the data book from the Multicultural Commission, Sutherland Institute, Salt Lake Interfaith Roundtable, Salt Lake Chamber, Economic Development Corporation of Utah, World Trade Center Utah, Governor’s Office of Economic Opportunity, Wheatley Institution at Brigham Young University and community and business leaders.

“A vital question we should all be asking ourselves is how we can use this consequential data to unify, not divide and how can we build community bridges for our future. Utah has made remarkable and sometimes surprising progress on challenging issues before. I’m confident this report provides some valuable tools to help us achieve another landmark of progress.”

—Byron Russell, co-chair, Utah Multicultural Commission

“This ‘Diversity in Utah’ report paints a very clear picture of the role of race, ethnicity, and sex in our state. Our minority communities categorically lag behind our white peers in terms of equity. What this report points out is the disparity of opportunity for minorities within our greater community. It also shows the degree by which these gaps are being bridged by the work performed by our local businesses, nonprofit organizations, governments, and educational institutions. We can take this data and use it to implement sound policy from all levels, then we will be on the right track toward a truly equitable State.”

—Silvia Castro, executive director, Suazo Business Center

“Utah is known for many things, one of which is the opportunity for upward mobility. However, this valuable data from the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute show that many in our community are being left behind or in some cases left out. We look forward to using this report as a baseline as we work together as the Utah Black Chamber of Commerce and the Salt Lake Chamber, within our multicultural and multifaceted community, to seek greater understanding, address real causation, and promote essential inclusion and opportunity—from our homes and schools to the workplace and community. Among our ongoing programs where this information is immediately essential is the work of our Diversity and Inclusion Council, the Housing Gap Coalition, and our Utah Community Builders foundation.”

—Derek Miller, president and CEO, Salt Lake Chamber, and  James Jackson III, founder and executive director, Utah Black Chamber of Commerce

“Our challenge and opportunity are to assess this information not from a place of division, but from a place of unity. I view this data as a hopeful moment of clarity when we can make a collaborative assessment about what to do next.”

—Rick Larsen, president and CEO, Sutherland Institute

“We believe that this data will further the awareness of disparities and can serve as a catalyst towards greater equity and inclusion. Our Board has already begun deeper conversations because of this document and look forward to collaborating with others as we, collectively bring together a more just and unified community.”

—Salt Lake Interfaith Roundtable

“Utahns are inquisitive, collaborative and forward-thinking, and with this research and information, we can better structure our policies, define our activities and shape our overall future. This report can help serve as a baseline from which we can progress. This work provides an opportunity for all to bring their best thinking to the table, remembering that ideas are not proprietary, they are inclusive."

—Gail Miller, owner and chair, Larry H. Miller Group of Companies

“As Utah business, civic and government leaders sharpen their focus on opportunity for all, we expect the data contained within this report will provide meaningful context and helpful insights in our joint efforts to increase economic mobility for all aspiring Utahns."

—Theresa A. Foxley, president and CEO, Economic Development Corporation of Utah

“One of our core critical core missions at the Governor’s Office of Economic Opportunity is to ensure we’re connecting Utah’s multicultural communities into the state’s overall economic success. We believe that a deliberate and targeted approach to training, partnering with businesses, active awareness of equity and inclusion, and outreach campaigns will help us make sure everyone is part of One Utah.”

—Dan Hemmert, executive director, Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Opportunity

Issues surrounding race, ethnicity, and sex are substantive and complex and require the very best data and insights so that policymakers, businesses, families and individuals can make informed decisions in our collective effort to help all Utahns attain social and economic prosperity. This report from the Gardner Institute is a model to the nation and should be used to inform productive, unifying discussions going forward.”

—Miles Hansen, president and CEO, World Trade Center Utah

“As this report demonstrates, the University of Utah has an important role to play in helping us understand the racial, ethnic and sex disparities in our state. Researchers in every field of study on our campus are investigating these inequities, bringing them to the surface, offering solutions and leading actions that will benefit Utahns who have not received adequate attention or had equal access to support and opportunities in the past.”

—Michael L. Good, interim president, University of Utah

“As the state’s largest health care provider, we’ve long believed that Utah has a historic opportunity to lead the nation in ensuring better and more equitable health outcomes in all the communities we serve. There’s much more work to do, and the data provided in this report will help further illuminate the path forward to educate, inspire, and proactively create an equitable community. With this data, we will continue our longstanding work to address underlying health disparities by investing in strategies to address social determinants of health, including food insecurity, access to quality education and affordable housing.”

—Marc Harrison, M.D., president and CEO, Intermountain Healthcare


Background information

The data book does not evaluate the reasons for racial, ethnic, and sex disparities. Rather, the report references the range of complex and interrelated demographic, economic, behavioral, and societal factors (including discrimination) that influence economic, education, health and housing outcomes. No causality is assigned, and margins of error are provided for sample data included in the data book. The rigorous treatment of the data includes careful sourcing, definitions and limitations.

All total, the report includes over 50 different variables of Utah-specific data by race, ethnicity and sex, making this extensive data repository the first of its kind in Utah. Authors were unable to find a similar compilation for any other state in the nation and view this data book as a unique asset to help Utahns understand racial, ethnic and sex disparities.

“The data book is a collective look in the mirror to assess where we are and where we need to improve,” said Gochnour. “The Gardner Institute and all of our partners in the community encourage Utahns to look in the mirror with us and review the data, consider the context, engage in discussions, consider additional data, and ultimately, glean greater understanding. From understanding will come greater humility, more acceptance of differing views, and greater ability to act.”

The full report is now available here.

An Analysis in Brief is also available here.