Chart: U.S. Absolute Upward Mobility. The lighter the map area the more upwardly mobile.
Salt Lake City and Utah have the highest rate of absolute upward mobility, moving from the poorest income quintile to the richest, in the nation, reports Bloomberg information services. A child born in Utah has more than a 10.8 percent chance, the nation’s highest. A “perfectly just world” would provide a 20 percent chance.
“Big government” does not appear to be a key for Utah and Salt Lake City. Bloomberg ranks Utah near the bottom in state “fiscal capacity.” State government has historically not invested much in fighting poverty, and Utah is last in per-student public education funding. Utah is a deep red (Republican) state, but its “conservatism is notably compassionate,” Bloomberg notes, thanks largely to instate religious influences.
“Utah does have an immense parallel structure that can be counted on to bolster anything government does on poverty. Its front door is Welfare Square,” Bloomberg states. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), the Catholic Church and its Catholic Community Services as well as many other religious and community efforts, aim to provide temporary help make sure no one goes hungry.
Bloomberg suggests that the secret to Utah’s especially good mobility is not just its effective public institutions but that it’s especially good at a “sort of middle classness that’s so broad it’s almost infectious.” Churches, civic and social institutions provide a “leveling of community.”
Utah is an aberration in interesting ways. Take alcohol and marriage. The incidence of problems associated with alcohol–like poverty, unemployment and crime–is lower than in most states. Utah is number one in both married adults and in the percentage of children being raised by married parents, reports the U.S. Census.
Bloomberg concludes, “Utah’s unique religious history not only democratized the relationships between the affluent and the struggling; it also democratized marriage, at a time when elsewhere in the U.S., marriage seems to be morphing into an elite institution….Utah’s incredible levels of integration, of community solidarity and support, of trust in government and in each other, enable it to build something unique in America.”