A new report by Voices for Utah Children compares Utah and Colorado for economic opportunity and finds that the two states are close competitors, with Utah ahead in 9 key areas and Colorado in 12.
The most positive news is that Utah wins for business climate ranking and social mobility. The most disturbing news is that in 2014, for the first time on record, Utah fell behind the nation in Bachelor’s degrees, continuing a long-term relative decline.
Utah and Colorado are considered peer states, competing with each other for growth and business investment and to attract the same highly-skilled, mobile professionals 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 economic opportunity, covering: • Business Climate • Employment and unemployment • Productivity • Entrepreneurship • Education system investment and performance • Status of women • School-to-prison pipeline • Income inequality and social mobility
“The gaps in educational attainment are perhaps the finding of greatest concern for Utah’s long-term future,” said Matthew Weinstein, State Priorities Partnership Director. “How will we close the gaps in productivity and wages if the next generation of workers continues to fall behind?”
Utah is ranked last in the nation for per pupil K-12 education funding. Colorado also invests more in public pre-school education than Utah. On average, Colorado third-graders have had about 18 months more instructional time than their Utah counterparts because of Colorado’s greater investment in preschool and all-day kindergarten. In 2013, only 13% of Utah kindergartners were enrolled in full-day kindergarten and only 13% of Utah 4-year-olds attended publicly funded preschool.
“If we want Utah kids to succeed in school, Utah needs to get out of last place for per pupil funding of K-12 education and invest in early education. Kids need to begin school ready to learn,” said Tess Davis, State Priorities Policy Analyst. “The Legislature took a big step in this direction in 2016 by passing SB101, which added $11 million for high-quality pre-K.” Funding high quality pre-K for low income children and offering optional all-day kindergarten are considered best practices for early education.
While Utahns do not match Colorado workers’ productivity, Utah does rank higher than Colorado for business climate and has a lower unemployment rate. Utah is also a top performer for lowering income inequality and ensuring upward social mobility for low-income kids, in part by referring fewer minority students to law enforcement compared to Colorado.
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. Utah has attempted to arrest this decline by investing more in higher education than Colorado on a per-student basis.
The new report, “A Comparative Look at Utah and Colorado: Part I: Economic Opportunity” is the first part of Voices for Utah Children’s “Working Families Benchmarking Project,” which will compare Utah’s performance on a variety of economic trends to peer states. The project draws from many existing economic comparison studies and economy rankings but focuses 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.