The changing face of Utah - Are we ready to embrace the future?

'Coming to our Census' series explores demographic issues

Published: Saturday, June 23 2012 1:00 p.m. MDT

Rocio Velazquez and her son Carlos prepare dinner at their home in West Valley City Friday, June 1, 2012.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Editor's note: This report is part 1 of "Coming to our Census," a series of reports that takes a careful look at the issues posed by the changing demographics of Utah and the nation.

Related coverage

Part 2: Poll results: Utahns welcome diversity but perceptions don't always match reality
Part 3: Some solutions in place to close education gap, but is Utah willing to pay for them?
Part 4: Latino students face barriers to higher education
Part 5: Minorities face hurdles in getting health care
Part 6: Immigrants, refugees can choose which aspects of culture to assimilate

Editorial: 'Coming to our Census' series takes needed, critical look at issues posed by Utah's changing demographics

Lists: Poll responses: Benefits of a more diverse population in Utah; Poll results about Census data: Perceptions don't always match reality

KSL coverage: 'Coming to our Census'

WEST VALLEY CITY — Isara Velazquez, born a year ago in Salt Lake City, is considered an ethnic minority in Utah. By the time she's her father's age, she'll be part of the national majority.

Ethnic minorities are already beginning to outnumber their white peers in many Utah communities. In Salt Lake City, half of preschool-age children are minorities and the city's white population is shrinking. That's part of a national trend that has yet to take place throughout the state. But that is changing.

Latinos make up about 16.3 percent of Utah's population while whites, mostly baby boomers and their progeny, represent 72 percent of Utahns.

If demographic trends continue, families like the Velazquezes — parents Humberto and Rocio, and the infant Isara's three siblings, Andrew, 7; Jennifer, 10; and 16-year-old Carlos, will eventually become the majority.

"It's just a matter of time when we white baby boomers start dying off in significant numbers and the generation that takes our place, which is already minority-majority in many communities throughout the state, and certainly nationally, they become the new face of the state and the nation," says Pamela Perlich, senior research economist for the University of Utah's Bureau of Economic and Business Research.

Perlich's research into the growth and change in Utah, a review of education initiatives, employment trends and the religious makeup of the state provide a glimpse of where the state currently stands and what challenges lie ahead. It also provides a sobering gut-check about what might occur if Utahns fail to act today to meet the challenges.

Can an education gap be closed? Can the immigrant minority populate the workplace as it becomes the majority? Can health care and other services be accessed? Can minorities find leadership to serve on local school and government boards? And can language and cultural barriers become opportunities to enrich the state, rather than wedges between neighbors?

By 2040, will Utah have met the challenges of its changing demographics?

Change is already under way:

Minorities comprise about one-fifth of the state's population and a quarter of Salt Lake City's population, according to the 2010 Census.

Minority children make up the majority of students in 15 of Salt Lake City's 27 elementary schools. And nine of those schools have minority populations of 80 percent or higher.

Thirty-five percent of preschool-age children in Salt Lake County are ethnic minorities, compared to 49 percent nationwide.

For the first time, ballots for upcoming elections in Salt Lake County will be produced in English and Spanish, a requirement of the federal Voting Rights Act resulting from the county's changing demographics.

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