New Report: Utah Works Harder, Colorado Works Smarter

Voices Utah Children LogoVoices for Utah Children published Part II of its Utah-Colorado benchmarking study, comparing the two peer states for standard of living.

The two peer states are closely matched, with Colorado working smarter and Utah working harder. The most positive news is that Utah wins for lower overall poverty and housing affordability. The top concerns are that Colorado’s wages are much higher than Utah’s, even after accounting for cost of living, and Utah’s poverty rates for Latinos and single-parent households are well above Colorado’s.

Colorado outpaces Utah by 13.5% in hourly wages.  Even after adjusting for differences in cost of living, Colorado workers’ median hourly wage beats Utah by 9%. Colorado has a 12% advantage over Utah in worker productivity and a 7.2 percentage point lead in the share of adults with bachelor’s degrees. One reason for Coloradans’ higher productivity is their much higher level of college degrees, with a lead over the nation that has grown in recent decades. Unfortunately, Utah has been going in the opposite direction and fell behind the nation for the first time in 2014 on Bachelor’s degrees, continuing a long-term decline relative to the nation.

“On average, Utah workers are not as educated as Coloradans, so we have to run faster to keep up. Utah roughly matches better-paid Colorado workers in terms of household income because we work longer hours and have more workers per household,” said Matthew Weinstein, State Priorities Partnership Director of Voices for Utah Children.

Colorado’s greater investment in education begins young, with more public dollars devoted to preschool and full-day kindergarten.  Like all other states in the nation, Colorado invests more on per pupil K-12 education than Utah.  Utah is ranked last for per pupil K-12 education funding.

“While the strong work ethic of Utah citizens is one of our state’s greatest strengths, we should be mindful of how our families could be even stronger if Utah workers had the skill levels of Colorado workers.” added Weinstein.  “If Utah workers were as educated as Colorado workers, Utahns could both earn higher incomes and have more time to devote to their families.”

Utah ranks ahead of Colorado for low overall poverty and child poverty rates, thanks largely to our higher rate of two-parent and two-earner households. However, Utah is behind Colorado for Hispanic poverty rates, indicating that a substantial gap has opened up between the majority and minority communities in Utah due to large differences in family structures, educational attainment, and wages. Utah also trails in reducing poverty among single-parent families.

“Disparities are widening,” noted Weinstein.  “We need to make sure that every Utahn has the opportunity to succeed so that the state will continue to prosper as our population becomes more diverse.”

The report’s co-author, State Priorities Policy Analyst Tess Davis, noted, “On average, Utah’s housing costs are lower than Colorado’s and our home ownership rate is much higher but transportation and energy costs tend to be lower next door. And both states have a fair amount of work to do when it comes to air quality.”

The new report, A Comparative Look at Utah and Colorado: Part II: Standard of Living is the second report of Voices for Utah Children’s Working Families Benchmarking Project and concludes analysis of how Utah compares to neighbor state Colorado. The project draws from many existing economic comparison studies and economy rankings to compare Utah to peer states, focusing on how the economy is experienced by middle- and lower-income families. It is the children from these families are most at risk for not achieving their potential in school and later in the workplace and in society in general.

Utah and Colorado are considered peer states, competing with each other for growth and business investment and to attract the same workers and business owners seeking the best economic opportunities and the unique Intermountain West quality of life. Utah’s success in our competition with peer states like Colorado helps determine whether we create enough jobs for our children and what their standard of living will be.

The report compares Utah and Colorado on 21 specific metrics of standard of living covering:

  • Income and wages
  • Poverty overall and for children and among Latinos and single-parent families
  • Hunger and homelessness
  • Housing, transportation, and energy costs
  • Health system performance
  • Air quality rankings

A table summarizing findings is available here: 

For more information, see the complete report: A Comparative Look at Utah and Colorado: Standard of Living at

The first report in this series, A Comparative Look at Utah and Colorado: Economic Opportunity, is available here: