D. Dowd Muska


Utahns Are Square -- and Successful

March 17, 2016

Want to claw your way up into the middle class?

Move to Utah.

That’s the inescapable conclusion from some new research by the Brookings Institution’s Richard V. Reeves and Edward Rodrigue. The scholars processed data compiled in a December report by the Pew Research Center, and found that 30 percent of American households qualify as “upper income,” with 48 percent landing in the middle and 22 percent at the bottom.

An interesting result, given the left’s monotonous narrative that America’s underclass in inexcusably huge. But Brookings’s jaw-dropping revelation came when Reeves and Rodrigue examined the 100 largest metro areas. A curious troika posted the highest shares of households ranking in the middle class. The Ogden-Clearfield, Provo-Orem, and Salt Lake City regions grabbed the first, second, and third slots. “Progressive” locales that preen about their “shared prosperity” -- e.g., Boston, D.C., New York City, San Francisco -- clustered near the bottom. Moonbat havens generally had lower-class portions north of 35 percent. Utah’s three superstars? Seventeen percent, 14 percent, and 19 percent, respectively.

If you’re looking for a place where America still works, you can’t do better than Utah. The state was clipped by the Great Recession, sure. It lost more than 7 percent of its employment between December 2007 and February 2010. But the Beehive State’s spent the last six years on a job-growth extravaganza. Employment surpassed the pre-downturn peak in November 2012, and now stands at 19.1 percent above its trough. (Most states would sacrifice plenty for half that rate of growth.)

A few years ago, The Wall Street Journal’s Sohrab Ahmari touted Utah’s “combination of smart policy and local culture.” Policy and culture -- get those right, and a state is wealthy and happy. Really, it’s not more complicated than that.

Utah is a right-to-work state. Union membership is infinitesimal, and thus, the unlimited-government lobby bears a crippling disadvantage. In its 2016 State Business Tax Climate Index, the Tax Foundation noted that while Utah has all three standard levies -- individual, corporate, and sales -- it imposes them “with low rates on broad bases.” On the John Locke Foundation’s “First in Freedom Index,” an analysis of fiscal, educational, regulatory, and healthcare policies, Utah ranks seventh.

Last year, the American Legislative Exchange Council’s competitiveness index put Utah’s 2003-to-2013 economic performance at No. 3. Its economic outlook was first. Utah’s been the champion of Forbes’s Best States for Business, a measure of “costs, labor supply, regulatory environment, current economic climate, growth prospects and quality of life,” for two years in a row.

Work may be a four-letter word in much of 21st century America, but in Utah, the employment-to-population is above the national average. Currently, just six states have lower jobless rates.

A strong work ethic is more about culture than policy, one might argue, and livin’ right is pervasive in Utah. Crack all the jokes you want about “magic underwear” and retroactive baptisms. And yes, many of us can’t imagine a world without caffeine and Game of Thrones. But there can be no doubting that Mormonism is kryptonite to social pathologies. Utah is dead last in out-of-wedlock births. (And baby-making is more popular there than anywhere else in America.) The crime rate is low. (Minnesota is more dangerous.) The state is tops in volunteerism. Poverty is paltry. Student test scores are high. Smoking? Obesity? Alcoholism? Drug abuse? They exist in Utah, but at rates far lower than the national averages.

In the decades to come, Utah will certainly become less Mormon. As soon as 2030, followers of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints could be in the minority. (A 2014 poll discovered an even split between supporters and opponents of same-sex marriage.) But habits and behaviors are pretty hard-wired. The kind of self-destructiveness pervasive in, say, Mississippi or New Mexico or Kentucky will be long in coming in Utah. Regardless of age, race, ethnicity, religion, and ideology, people tend to recognize a good thing, and stick with it.

With its economic engine operating at full capacity, Utah’s population will keep swelling. Electoral-college clout will expand. Tourists will continue to flock to the state’s stunning natural beauty. And if oil shale ever becomes profitable, Saudi Arabia’s loathsome theocrats should panic -- the Green River Formation is poised to become the petroleum supermarket to the world.

Utahns have jobs. They get married before they procreate. They devote themselves to charity work. They watch their health. And they confine government to its proper sphere.

Why can’t the residents of other states do the same?

D. Dowd Muska (www.dowdmuska.com) writes about government, economics, and technology. Follow him on Twitter @dowdmuska.

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