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Idaho and Utah

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Of all the states, Utah may be the most useful as a comparison point for Idaho.

The idea of comparing isn’t commonplace. People in most places think vertically – my community, state, nation, in a way sometimes called “stovepiping” – and not so much horizontally. But that’s often where some of the most useful insights can be found.

A group called Voices for Utah Children, based you can guess where, has recognized as much. In 2016 it decided to run a comparison between two states, theirs and Minnesota, to see how children fare in the two places, and why. Last year it compared Utah and Colorado. This year, in a report just released, it examined the similarities and differences with Idaho.

The Idaho comparison would be useful partly because the states are neighbors, but it’s not just that. The western states are all remarkably distinctive, each with their own character, but Utah and Idaho may be two of the most closely matched in demographics, economics, politics, and overall outlook. The link in religion is obvious enough, but so is the political stance (as one indicator, Republicans control the state legislatures by similar percentages) and the types and influence of business and commerce. (Did you know that the Latino share of the population in the two states is nearly the same?) These two states have a lot in common.

But there are differences.

The core VUC findings – remembering here that the focus is on children: “notwithstanding Idaho’s increasing economic vitality, the most noteworthy findings of this report is that Utah ranks far ahead of Idaho by key metrics of standard of living, including median household income, median hourly wage, and poverty rates. It should therefore come as no surprise that Utah also ranks far ahead for educational attainment and worker productivity.”

Worker productivity? The report cites a study (the stats come from the U.S. Department of Commerce) showing, “Utah lags behind most states in productivity per worker at 39th place, but Idaho is even further behind in 49th place.”

In some ways, the report acknowledged, Utah may not rate as high (relatively) as it should: “Utah’s recent decision (FY 2016) to invest state tax dollars for the first time in public preschool has yet to register in the national rankings, which always have a lag of a few years, leaving Utah behind most states.”

The take on children’s wellbeing brings a bunch of related factors into play, including economics and health. So we also get into subjects like these:

“Utah is the clear winner by most measures of wages and poverty. Utah’s median hourly wage was 5% higher than Idaho’s last year, though that advantage shrinks by about a fifth when adjusted for Idaho’s lower cost of living. Utah’s slightly higher median hourly wage is consistent with (though much smaller than) the state’s 17% advantage over Idaho in higher education attainment (Bachelor’s degrees and above) and 16% advantage over Idaho in worker productivity. By the poverty metrics, Utah leads in nearly every category. Idaho biggest advantage over Utah in the Standard of Living metrics is its
low cost of living. Idaho also enjoys better air quality and shorter commutes.”

Which state stands to benefit most over the long haul? We’ll see when a future version of this report comes out.
 

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