Salt Lake City has never been so populated, according to census data
In the past 10 years, a town in Utah has exploded by almost 9,000%.
Another has become the state’s first major city where the majority of its residents are minorities, primarily due to its thriving Hispanic and Latino community. And Salt Lake City grew bigger than it had ever been before, surpassing its previous population peak of the 1960s.
They’re all part of Utah’s meteoric growth over the past decade, as evidenced by U.S. Census numbers released this week. And while the effects of this population spike are being felt across the state, the data also documents how this expansion hits each community differently.
Many small towns and villages across the state have actually shrunk further, part of a nationwide wave of migration to urban centers, while the creation of more than 11,400 homes in Salt Lake City has helped propel the largest city’s population to unprecedented heights.
One thing that caught the attention of Yehemy Zavala Orozco, director of programs and community health worker for Comunidades Unidas, was the added diversity in many cities. In West Valley City, where the nonprofit is based, the growth of the Latino community has accounted for most of the population increase over 10 years, and white people in the city are now a minority.
Zavala Orozco, who uses the pronouns them/them, said the data only reinforces demographic shifts that have been evident to most people over the past decade.
“It represents more what Utah is,” they said.
What are the 10 largest cities in Utah?
Salt Lake City, the capital, retained its crown as Utah’s largest city, adding more than 13,000 residents to reach a population of just under 200,000, according to the 2020 census. West Valley City has de again finished second, with 140,230 inhabitants.
Over the past 10 years, however, there have been some shakeups in the list of the state’s 10 largest cities.
West Jordan (116,961) overtook Provo (115,162) as Utah’s third-largest city, relegating the latter to fourth place. St. George (95,342) and Ogden (87,321) also traded places, with the Washington County city ranking seventh in the state and pushing the Weber County city to eighth place.
South Jordan (77,487), one of the fastest growing cities, landed in 10th, a spot occupied by Millcreek in 2010.
Others on the list were Orem, in fifth place with 98,129; Sandy, in sixth place with 96,904 inhabitants; and Layton, in ninth place with 81,773 people.
Which places have grown the fastest?
By far, the fastest growing place in Utah was Vineyard, whose population has exploded 8,924% since 2010.
The Utah County town, built on the site of Geneva’s former steel mill, didn’t look so pretty 10 years ago, with a population of 139. Today, it has more than 12,500, according to the census.
The city that grew the most in terms of population was Herriman, which added 33,359, followed by Lehi with 28,500.
But while four of Utah County’s towns grew by more than 10,000 people, Pam Perlich, director of demographic research at the University of Utah’s Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute, said overall numbers of the county were slightly lower than she and other experts had expected.
“We thought Utah County would have more growth than Salt Lake County,” she said, “but it’s not.”
Perlich said demographers predicted the larger household size in Utah County would lead to a bigger increase in population — even though it added about 44,000 homes compared to 64,000 in Salt Lake County.
“Our people-per-household assumptions were too aggressive for Utah County,” she said, “and not aggressive enough for Salt Lake County.”
After Vineyard, the places in Utah that had the highest percentage growth over the last decade were:
Clear Creek, west end of Carbon County, 200% (down from four residents to 12).
Herriman at 153% (grew from 21,785 to 55,144).
Bluffdale at 124% (grew from 7,598 to 17,014).
Saratoga Springs at 112% (grew from 17,781 to 37,696).
Eagle Mountain at 104% (down from 21,415 to 43,623).
Elk Ridge at 92% (down from 2,436 to 4,687).
Peter, Cache County, 92% (down from 324 to 623).
Stansbury Park in Tooele County at 91% (from 5,145 to 9,851).
Mountain Green, Morgan County, 83% (down from 2,309 to 4,231).
What are some of the racial and ethnic changes?
In Salt Lake County, West Valley City and Kearns have both become majority minorities over the past 10 years — and a number of other communities have diversified even though whites still make up more than half the population.
Rep. Karen Kwan, who represents part of West Valley City and won $500,000 in census outreach funding from the state, said that doesn’t surprise her. She sees this increased diversity when she talks to constituents, visits her daughter’s school and shops at her local Smith.
“I can not enter [the grocery store] and buy whatever I want in a Chinese market,” Democrat Murray said. “But there are more products that are diverse, so that’s a good thing.”
In West Valley City, Hispanic or Latino residents — 12,400 of whom have moved in since 2010 — now make up more than 39% of the population. The number of whites, on the other hand, fell by around 8,500, now representing 44% of the city’s population.
Both Kwan and Zavala Orozco say they hope the changes reflected in this data will inspire policy changes and give government officials a more accurate picture of the communities they represent.
“When it comes to public servants or our elected officials, this understanding of diversity helps us create policies that won’t disproportionately impact BIPOC communities,” Kwan said.
Zavala Orozco said advocates have pushed elected leaders to provide services and written materials that reflect the different languages and ethnicities of their communities. But they’ve met with backlash from officials who don’t believe the demand exists.
“So now we have data,” they said. “Now that we have proof that we need different resources, we need more support and cultural skills…for our community members who live here in the cities.”
Salt Lake City was a notable exception to trends seen in many surrounding communities — and actually saw the number of Hispanic or Latino residents drop by 133 over the decade.
Zavala Orozco said the reason for the decline is clear: gentrification.
Rising housing costs in Salt Lake City have long displace communities of color, they said, an issue that Zavala Orozco and other advocates have tried to bring to the attention of local authorities. With this census data, they could finally have the numbers to better argue their point of view.
“The data proves that this is happening not because our community isn’t growing,” Zavala Orozco said, “but because they push us away.”