New Census data: Utah roars ahead on incomes but still catching up on poverty

The U.S. Census Bureau released the state-level results of its 2016 American Community Survey (ACS) that surveys about 1% of the entire U.S. population each year on topics including income, poverty, inequality, and health insurance.

The results are mostly good news for Utah, with the state making substantial progress in all areas, though not always enough to surpass pre-recession levels or keep up with other states.


As illustrated in the chart below, Utah’s median household income roared ahead in 2016, reaching $65,977 and finally significantly surpassing its pre-recession level as well as the previous peak at the end of the 1990s economic expansion, neither of which are the case for the nation as a whole. In addition, Utah’s ranking among the states by this important benchmark improved from 13th highest in 2015 to #11 in 2016. Utah appears to be on the verge of breaking into the top ten nationally in median household income for the first time. (Figures below are adjusted for inflation and expressed in constant 2016 dollars.)

20170921 Income Chart 



Utah’s poverty and child poverty rates both improved substantially in 2016, but they both remained above pre-recession levels at 10.2 and 11.1%, respectively.

20170921 Poverty Chart 01

20170921 Poverty Chart 02




In 2016 Utah switched places with Alaska and was the state with the second lowest level of inequality in the nation. When the 2015 data came out a year ago, Utah enjoyed the lowest Gini index in the nation and Alaska was #2; this year, the 2016 data show that we’re 2nd lowest and Alaska is #1 for lowest inequality. (And unlike last year, the difference between the two is statistically significant this year.)

Significance of the New Census Data

Matthew Weinstein, Voices for Utah Children’s State Priorities Partnership Director, commented, “The persistence of Utah’s elevated poverty levels even as household incomes have now fully recovered from the Great Recession of a decade ago is best understood in the context of Utah’s rapid demographic changes over the past generation. To our credit, Utah has been a warm and welcoming state for immigrants and refugees, and we have been immeasurably enriched as a result. At the same time, our growing minority populations have different family, educational, and workforce characteristics than the Utah majority, leading to higher rates of poverty and child poverty and creating majority-minority gaps at a scale that Utah has not experienced in the past. Utah can rise to meet this challenge and prepare our future workforce for success by adding some new tools to our public-sector poverty-fighting toolkit. Utah should join the 29 states that have created a state-level Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), including most recently South Carolina, Montana, and Hawaii earlier this year. We should also enact Governor’s Herbert’s Healthy Utah proposal so that we can expand Medicaid access to more effectively attack our high uninsured rates. Census data released earlier this week found that we rank in the bottom 10 states with one of the nation’s worst rates of uninsured children at 6%, compared to 4.7% nationally. Last year we also had the nation’s very highest rate of uninsured Latino children.”