Utah Census Results: Minority Populations Grow More Than Whites
Whites are no longer responsible for the majority of Utah’s population growth.
Racial and ethnic minorities in Beehive State contributed just over half – 52% – of the estimated 508,000 new faces over the past decade, according to 2020 census data released this week.
It’s a development that top Utah demographer Pamela Perlich called “superb.” She said the development is further confirmation of the changing profile of the state, which is growing faster than any other.
“Over time, more and more of the growth has come from diverse populations,” Perlich said. “It’s been cumulative. It’s been ongoing, and it’s absolutely irreversible.”
Over the past decade, minorities have fueled about 40% of the change, said Perlich, director of demographic research at the University of Utah’s Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute. This figure was 35% in the 1990s.
In the past, Perlich and her colleagues have estimated Utah’s population by making the demographic equivalent of Xerox copies, she said, replicating the same household statewide: “one white man, one white wife, 3.2 white children”.
“It’s not like that at all anymore,” Perlich said, noting that Utah’s white population is aging as young people from diverse backgrounds fall in love and start families. “There’s a lot more diversity around household types, living arrangements, an aging population, cultural, racial and ethnic diversity in Utah that’s sweeping the state.”
The growth includes children born during the decade, as well as those who have moved to the state, whether they came to start a new job, be closer to family, or to live locally, where they can explore incalculable peaks, rocks and rivers.
The general trend toward greater diversity is not playing out evenly across Utah, Perlich noted. Communities on the west side of Salt Lake County — including Kearns, West Valley and Taylorsville — are becoming less and less white. Salt Lake City, however, has seen a decline in the number of Hispanic residents and those who identify as American Indian or Alaska Native, as it has gained whites over the past 10 years. Some rural counties, such as Beaver and Cache, recorded greater diversity.
Utah’s population – at 3.2 million – is still overwhelmingly white. Three out of four residents are neither Hispanic nor from racial minorities.
But the change is undeniable. The number of those who identify with more than two races or another race tripled during the period, growing faster than any other group, to a total of more than 80,300. Bureau will provide additional information based on the details they listed on their survey forms last year.
When the numbers are factored in, Hispanic Utahns added the most of any minority group, contributing more than 134,500.
Representation, not just raw numbers, plays a role in change.
The report shows more Pacific Islanders in the state, up 50% over the decade to 35,800. But the change doesn’t reflect community growth so much as a higher tally complete,” said Lita Sagato, president-elect of the Utah Chapter of the OCA Asian Pacific Islander American Advocates. The community still remains small, at just over 1% of Utah’s total population.
Sagato said the surge is due to a push to get as many people into the group as possible, an effort led largely by Margarita Satini, the community organizer and advocate for Utah’s Pacific Islanders who succumbed to the COVID-19 last year.
Satini intended to make sure the group had access to testing and was counted in a survey that helps determine how much federal money goes to schools, hospitals and municipal projects like roads. Her colleagues are now working to share accurate vaccine information.
“We all keep crying,” Sagato said, “but staying busy doing his job has helped us.”
Satini would be thrilled to see the census numbers and her resolve would grow stronger, Sagato said. She imagines her friend saying, “This shows us that we have more people to serve, more people to contact.”
Sagato noted that the tally doesn’t reflect the full picture of diversity in Utah. The number of Pacific Islanders in Utah is likely higher, but those of mixed descent—someone who is Hawaiian and Korean, for example—are not counted in the Pacific Islander category. The census identifies them as part of the group of two or more races.
Some of the new version’s data points are confusing to Perlich and his colleagues. For one, the population of Salt Lake City did not exceed 200,000 as they had expected. The researchers also predicted that Utah County’s growth would outpace that of Salt Lake County, but that hasn’t happened yet. This is an indication that new households in Utah County are smaller than Perlich and his team anticipated. Further data releases in the coming months will shed more light, she said.
“There are so many more questions this raises than answers,” Perlich said. “But at least we have a few more pieces to the puzzle.”