UTAH CAN CLAIM both one of the nation’s least unequal income distributions and one of the highest measures of social mobility. However, it has not been immune to national trends of growing income inequality. According to one of the panelists at a June 30 Utah Foundation Breakfast Briefing, the bottom 10% of income earners in Utah saw their real income decline between 1990 and 2014 and the median earners saw no real change – even as the top 1% enjoyed an increase of more than 75% in real income. Nationally, meanwhile, panelists suggested there is a creeping feeling that “the game is rigged” to favor a small elite at the expense of the social mobility of hard-working regular people, causing resentment and social division.
One simple way to look at inequality is to order households by income and break them into five evenly populated groups (quintiles). If the society were perfectly equal, each quintile would earn the same amount of income. Utah’s counties and regions (less populated counties grouped together by the U.S. Census) show varying levels of inequality.
Figure 1: Share of Income Quintiles Earned by County or Region in Utah
Tooele, Box Elder and Davis counties have some of the most equal distribution of income, while Weber County and the area that includes Cache, Summit, Morgan and Rich counties are among the most unequal.
However, there’s more to the story. Even if a place were perfectly equal, that wouldn’t necessarily mean it is prosperous. Figure 2 looks at just the middle quintile (those between the 40%-60% percentile of highest income earners) to get a sense of the baseline income. While Davis, Tooele and Box Elder counties have similar levels of inequality, the middle quintile of households in Davis earn between $67,000 and $96,000, while their peers in Tooele and Box Elder earn between $54,000 and $78,000. Interestingly, Davis County has both the most prosperous middle range and one of the highest levels of income equality.
Figure 2. The range of income for Utahns earning in the 40%-60% percentile
To highlight the variation across the state, assuming quintiles roughly align with income class, a household earning $65,000 would be low-middle class in Davis county, middle class in most the rest of the state, and upper middle class in Southwest or South Central Utah.
 It should be noted that groupings of counties represent census designations. The higher level of inequality could be created by grouping dissimilar counties.