Maintaining Social Mobility Amid Salt Lake City's Changing Demographics

A study released in 2013 ranked Sat Lake City fifth in upward mobility, but critics say that the study reflected an earlier era. Now with changing demographics, the Salt Lake is redoubling efforts to maintain opportunities for all of its citizens.
April 30, 2014, 12pm PDT | James Brasuell | @CasualBrasuell
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When the Equality of Opportunity Project ranked Salt Lake City fifth in upward mobility, "Salt Lake City officials heralded the study as yet another piece of evidence for the region's high quality of life, alongside its low unemployment rate," according to a recent article by Nancy Cook. "But for another group of locals—social workers, educators, and community advocates—the study was also a cautionary tale."  

Salt Lake City is quickly diversifying, changing the dynamics that contributed to its high ranking on the report.

"Any visitor can tell this just by driving along Interstate 15, the highway that cuts the city into two halves," writes Cook. "The eastern portion has a demographic makeup similar to Vermont—white, well-off, home to the university campus, Statehouse, and downtown district of offices and restaurants. To the west of I-15 sits low-income neighborhoods that house the most recent influx of immigrants or refugees or low-income families. In one district on the West Side, as many as 90 percent of school kids qualify for free or reduced priced lunches."

In response, the city's leaders have launched a number of strategies to maintain the city quality of life and opportunities for upward mobility. Here's a few examples:

  • "We know there are gaps now in community services for immigrants, or those in the community without a loud voice. We're trying to figure out how we, as an institution, can support those needs," says Rick Foster, the manager of humanitarian services for North America for the LDS Church, in the article.
  • "The University of Utah started an outreach program more than a decade ago on the West Side to form partnerships with businesses, nonprofits, and schools to better serve low-income people. One program, the Westside Leadership Institute, trains residents to become more politically active in neighborhoods and to access decision makers."
  • The Salt Lake City School District has opened "a handful of community centers, like the Glendale-Mountain View Community Learning Center. Housed in a new $4.6 million building adjacent to an elementary and middle school, the center offers medical and dental care, mental health counseling, and classes to the roughly 6,000 people who live in the neighborhood."
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Published on Tuesday, April 29, 2014 in National Journal
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