Utah's little secret: Inclusion a key to economic growth

Published: Monday, May 27 2013 1:40 p.m. MDT

Salt Lake was behind national levels in its income gap decrease at 8.5 percent, where the U.S. saw a 12.2 percent decrease.

Pastor and colleague Chris Benner, professor of human and community development at University of California Davis, also studied communities' ability to have conversations and shared knowledge across religious, race, economic and business lines.

"Knowing together is the first step to growing together," Pastor said.

They met with community and religious leaders in Salt Lake City earlier this month to get a clearer idea of the factors behind Salt Lake's inclusion. The researchers met with almost two dozen representatives from religious, civic and government organizations in Salt Lake City.

Community outreach

Comunidades Unidas was one of the organizations of interest in Pastor's and Benner's research. This community outreach organization works to create shared meaning and connections between immigrants and the community they are joining as part of the Welcome Utah initiative.

"We put a face to immigration," Luis Garza, executive director of Communidades Unidas, said.

The group recently partnered with Salt Lake Community College to collect and share stories of immigrants, and has planned a bus tour that will take residents from the east side of Salt Lake Valley to eat at restaurants on the west side of the valley.

Envision Utah, which facilitates development projects across the state, was also part of Pastor's study.

In an effort to understand how each community wants to develop, Envision Utah conducts planning meetings for stakeholders, uses online surveys, hosts community workshops and walks around neighborhoods to hear as many voices as possible.

Envision Utah's work has been invaluable in bringing together voices throughout the community to build a shared vision of the future, Benner said.

Church involvement

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has also been valuable through its welfare assistance programs, Benner said. During their time in Utah, Benner and his colleagues toured the Humanitarian Center and Welfare Square in Salt Lake City, hosted by Elder Richard Hinckley, his wife Sister Jane Hinckley and Envision Utah.

Salt Lake's job availability has increased across wage sectors, according to research from the Program for Environment and Regional Equity at the University of Southern California. Low wage jobs increased by 62 percent, middle-wage at 59 and high-wage at 57 percent. This is different from national trends, Pastor said, which have growth in low- and high-wage jobs, but not in middle-wage.

Earnings per worker in Utah also run contrary to national trends, Pastor said. Where Utah shows the most increase in earnings per worker for low-wage jobs at 28 percent, followed by middle-wage at 24 percent and high-wage at 23 percent, nationally, high-wage jobs see the most income increase.

Pastor and Benner found that greater wage inequality led to slower economic growth, whereas less inequality led to faster and more sustainable economic growth.

"Inequality is associated with under investing in each other and that makes us less competitive," Pastor, a professor of sociology at the University of Southern California, said. "Lots of inequality, lack of social coherence and racial segregation creates societal tension over who will win and who will lose. It makes us less likely to cohere on what we need to do and thrive."

The Utah Compact

The Utah Compact has also influenced the growth and inclusion in Salt Lake, Pastor said, because it brought diverse voices together. Business, civic, religious and immigration rights leaders came together to "have a civil conversation around immigration that recognizes that people are human beings in families," Pastor said.

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