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'Coming to our Census' — How changing demographics impact Utah

By Richard Piatt | Posted - Jun. 25, 2012 at 1:22 p.m.

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SALT LAKE CITY -- Depending on where you live in Utah, it might be hard to recognize how fast our demographics are changing and what kind of impact that is having around the state. KSL and the Deseret News have teamed up to produce a week- long special series on how we are "Coming to Our Census."

There is definitely an East-West divide, separated by I- 15. To the west minorities make up the majority, 66 percent of the population. To the east they make up about a quarter, 24 percent, of the population.

From 2000 to 2010, had it not been for minority growth, population would have declined in Salt Lake City.

Utah's rising generation is young and diverse, and the future of our state depends on its success.

"We do maintain our signature demographics, meaning we are still the youngest state, but we are getting older. We still have the highest number of babies per woman, but the number of children per woman is going down. We don't have as many racial, ethnically diverse populations as some places in the nation, but we are becoming more so," said Pam Perlich, a senior research economist at the University of Utah.

Take Salt Lake City for example. From 2000 to 2010, had it not been for minority growth, population would have declined. Jaqueline Robles immigrated from Vera Cruz, Mexico during that time and had three children.

Through a translator Robles said, "[Salt Lake City] is nice and quiet, and it is a place Mexicans can feel at peace."

Zeinab Keta fled Liberia and then the Ivory Coast before coming to Utah with her seven children as refugees. She said, "It's very important for my kids to have opportunity, to go to school."

She is not alone. Salt Lake City is a refugee receiving area. In fact, from 1995 to 2005 about one in 10 immigrants came to Utah with refugee status.

The economy and a better school system brought Joan Lind and her husband from California back to Salt Lake.

There are few things we can control about the future, but one of the things we can control is, if we get that next generation educated and healthy they will do better than they otherwise would've.

–- Pam Perlich

"I felt like the education system in California was irretrievably broken," she said.

The three mothers all live in Salt Lake with very diverse backgrounds but common struggles. They also all work, as do most mothers in Utah.

"It is very difficult to have to work and raise children at the same time," Robles said.

They are all involved in their child's education and all worry about college.

"My kids know they need to go to college, but they know we can't pay for them to go to college," Lind said.

Keta's eldest son, Mamadou Trawally, just graduated from high school. He's the first person in his family to do so and will attend college on a scholarship.

He said, "I think it is important for me, you know, going to college to set a good example for the other kids."

But what does the future hold for his siblings, the Lind children or the Robles children? In Utah, white students have a significantly higher high school graduation rate than minority students.

"There are few things we can control about the future," Perlich said, "but one of the things we can control is, if we get that next generation educated and healthy they will do better than they otherwise would've."

Since we know where we are headed, we have the chance to find solutions and create more opportunity. KSL and the Deseret News will take a closer look at how changing demographics are impacting education, healthcare, crime and attitudes in Utah.

Marjorie Cortez, writing for the Deseret News, says, "Along with change comes growing pains and misperceptions, and that's another reason to do this series is to dispel myths and help us move along in a positive way with the change."

Attitudes about demographic changes may be influenced by age.

Coming up:

"It looks a lot different to us baby boomer generation because when we were born there weren't many immigrants and a pretty ethnically and racially homogenous community," Perlich said.

The Great Depression and World War II halted immigration. But if you look toward the past and into the future, you get a better picture of immigration and population growth.

"The youth see this as a positive development," Perlich said, "that we are part of a global community."


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