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

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

Demographic trends suggest that current ethnic and racial minorities will soon find themselves in the majority. The challenges posed by those trends stem from the poor assimilation of many ethnic and racial minorities into our social, political and educational institutions.

Michael Brandy, Deseret News archives

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

Today the Deseret News, in partnership with KSL, launches a series called "Coming to our Census." This series of reports takes a careful look at the issues posed by the changing demographics of Utah and the nation. In today's introductory article, Marjorie Cortez succinctly lays out the aim of the series by asking "By 2040, will Utah have met the challenges of its changing demographics?"

Demographic trends suggest that current ethnic and racial minorities will soon find themselves in the majority. The challenges posed by those trends stem from the poor assimilation of many ethnic and racial minorities into our social, political and educational institutions. So, for example, although most of the growth in primary and secondary education over the next several decades will come from our growing Hispanic population, Utah will fall far short of its full potential if the current disappointing pattern for Hispanic high school graduation, college enrollment and college completion continues as it is.

That pattern is best described by Octavio Villalpando at the University of Utah, who has shown that out of every 100 white children who enroll in Utah's elementary schools, 84 will graduate from high school and 26 will graduate from college. Out of every 100 Hispanic children who enroll in Utah's elementary schools, however, only 40 will graduate from high school and only four will graduate from college. Given the educational demands of the global economy, this pattern of failure is alarming.

The eminent 18th-century statesman Edmund Burke described society as a sacred partnership "not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born. Each contract of each particular state is but a clause in the great primeval contract of eternal society."

This "Coming to our Census" series effectively adopts the spirit of Burke's intergenerational compact by challenging the Utahns of today to consider how to fulfill their responsibility to the Utahns of tomorrow. That responsibility, however, requires unusual insight and imagination because the next generation will look quite different from the current generation.

Of course, current policy choices regarding public spending have already shown callus disregard for the next generation of Americans, regardless of their race or background. By borrowing at unprecedented rates, governments are saddling the next generation with an unconscionable burden of debt that will stifle growth and opportunity. So although many of the issues discussed in our series might intuitively suggest increased public expenditure as a solution, it is very hard to imagine that significant public funds will be available, let alone help.

It is our opinion that although the next generation might appear different, they will, in fact, be very much like each successive wave of new Americans — eager to succeed through hard work, anxious to find a nurturing environment for their families and happy to contribute back to the institutions that support their quest for betterment.

Consequently, the challenge of meeting the deepest needs of successive generations is not so much a material challenge as it is a cultural one. Do our policies and culture place sufficient value on long-term sustainability? Are the institutions that contemporary society is bequeathing to the rising generation protecting the dignity and worth of all persons? Do they treat individuals as ends in themselves? Are they transmitting a shared and productive moral vision?

Some have suggested that cultural dimensions of the coming demographic shift may be particularly challenging because, unlike the last great wave of immigration at the turn of the 20th century, the latest wave comes from Latin America and Asia rather than Europe. But it is our opinion that it is the authority and resilience of the host culture that is most likely to determine the outcome of any cultural struggle.

If what we bequeath socially and culturally to the next generation were to come from a materialist popular culture that glorifies individualism, instant gratification and debt, then regardless of ethnicity or race, the next generation would face severe challenges. But if instead we were to bequeath vibrant families, congregations, schools and civic institutions — institutions that value community, responsibility and thrift — then we would help to re-establish the foundations for lasting prosperity.

Every person deserves the freedom to prosper. As you explore in our reporting what Utah will look like in the next quarter century, carefully consider the legacy you are creating for a rising generation that yearns for little more than the pursuit of genuine happiness. It is through a culture of responsibility, established by our collective choices, that Utah will meet the challenges of its changing demographics.

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

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