Utah’s Economy: Growing Fast, Leaving Some Behind

Written by: Dan Bammes

Utah Foundation President Steve Kroes with economist Carrie Mayne from the Utah Department of Workforce Services
Utah Foundation President Steve Kroes appeared on a panel at the presentation of this year’s Economic Report to Governor with economist Carrie Mayne from the Utah Department of Workforce Services

Each year, the Bureau of Economic and Business Research at the University of Utah publishes an Economic Report to the Governor. The 2015 report was presented on Friday, January 9th to a breakfast meeting of business, state and community leaders at the Marriott City Center in Salt Lake City. The event included remarks from Governor Gary R. Herbert as well as a panel of economists and business leaders, including Utah Foundation President Steve Kroes.
Governor Herbert noted the strong growth in jobs over the past year. The report shows an annual job growth rate of 3.4%, third-fastest in the country. The unemployment rate stood at 3.6% in November, ranking fourth. Growth in Utah’s Gross Domestic Product reached 3.9%, well ahead of the U.S. average of 2% and far outdistancing the other seven states in the Mountain West region.
Herbert also talked about his visit with President Barack Obama and other administration officials in Washington DC earlier in the week. The Utah legislature is about to consider his Healthy Utah plan, which would allow the state to extend medical insurance benefits to more than 90,000 Utahns who live near the federal poverty line, and he argued for an option that allows the state to benefit from the tax revenue going to Washington to support the President’s health care plan.
Governor Gary R. Herbert

Following the governor’s remarks, the panelists looked at a number of issues contained in the report, including Utah’s performance compared to the rest of the country and other states. The report lists Texas and North Dakota as outperforming Utah in economic growth, but panelists pointed out their economies are tied to energy production and could be hurt by the current decline in the prices for oil and natural gas.
Utah Foundation President Steve Kroes told the group Utah’s more diverse economy tracks national trends more closely.
Utah Foundation President Steve Kroes

Among the concerns raised in the otherwise upbeat report, the panelists looked at the pattern of intergenerational poverty in Utah. A new state law requires state government to compile data on poverty, and Gochnour pointed out that it could touch as many as 33% of the children living in Utah. The report also shows that wages are not rising at the same rate as economic growth generally and identified that as an area of concern.

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