Making Government Work

More Diversity Doesn’t Have to Mean Decreased Social Mobility

May 16, 2014
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More Diversity Doesn’t Have to Mean Decreased Social Mobility
Salt Lake City is one of the best places for a low-income child to have a chance at becoming an economically-secure adult. Photo Dean/Flickr
As Utah's capital city becomes increasingly diverse, educators and government officials are working to make sure the poor still get a fair shake.

Not only can Salt Lake City boast of its beautiful scenery, but it can also tout that it’s one of the best places in America for a low-income child to have a chance at becoming an economically-secure adult.

The Utah city (along with San Jose, California) has a social mobility rate comparable to Denmark, a country with one of the highest rates of relative mobility in the world. Poor kids in Salt Lake City have a 10.8 percent chance of zooming from the bottom fifth in income to the top fifth. (In contrast, Atlanta and Milwaukee have lower social mobility rates than “any developed country for which data are currently available,” according to the 2013 study by economists at Harvard and the University of California, Berkeley.)

Salt Lake City’s secret, writes Nancy Cook for the National Journal, was “less economic segregation, a good public school system, strong family stability, a reliable social safety net, and less income inequality. Areas with less urban sprawl and less racial segregation also performed better in the rankings.”

But Salt Lake City has become a different place than the one captured in the aforementioned study, Cook notes. The majority of people in Utah’s capital city used to be Mormon, but according to the Salt Lake City Tribune, the religious group is no longer the majority. This matters because the Church of Latter-day Saints makes a point of providing a wealth of services for its members and encourages families to stay together.

City officials are working to maintain their social mobility rate even as the population becomes more diverse and income inequality rises. Rosemarie Hunter, the director of The University of Utah’s University Neighborhood Partners, says, “Thirteen years ago, the university looked at its data and realized that two ZIP codes in the city had virtually no students coming to the university. That was a huge red flag.” So Neighborhood Partners began to visit the west-side neighborhoods that weren’t sending kids to college, forging partnerships with businesses and community leaders to help get these kids on the right track toward higher education.

Additionally, the Salt Lake City School District has opened community centers serving the poor and offering dental services, medical care, and education.

Natalie Gouchnour of the University of Utah told Cook, “This state has a good network of taking care of people in need. Part of that comes from the Mormon culture, but part of it is just the ethos of the state.” Pamela Perlich of the Salt Lake Bureau of Economic and Business Research agreed with her, saying that her city has “the tradition and wherewithal to do something” to stop social mobility from decreasing.

With Utah setting an example with its housing-first program to end homelessness and its progressive attitude about immigration reform, it has a good chance of maintaining its status as a great place for people of all income levels to live.

MORE: Utah is On Track to End Homelessness by 2015 With This One Simple Idea

 

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