By: Pamela S. Perlich
This week, we released our county level demographic and economic projections for Utah for the next half century. These projections are the culmination of two years of research and development work by our team at the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute. Given my long history and deep involvement in this projection work, my inclination is to share stories about and lessons from the past two years. I will resist this impulse and focus instead on what the work has taught us about Utah’s next 50 years.
For the foreseeable future, growth and change are our constant companions here in Utah. Economic and educational opportunity will continue to attract and keep people in the state as our rate of population growth continues to outpace that of the nation. We project the state’s population will nearly double, growing from 3 million in 2015 to 5.8 million in 2065. This growth is geographically concentrated in the Greater Wasatch Area, composed of the four large Wasatch Front counties and the adjacent ring counties. The population growth dynamic in this urban area has shifted into Utah County, where we expect a million more people, resulting is a population of 1.6 million by 2065, nearly matching the 1.7 million expected to reside in Salt Lake County by 2065. The capital county is expected to maintain its role as the primary economic engine in the state, with four of every 10 jobs in the state by 2065. The extent of the urban area is expected to expand into the adjacent “ring” counties, notably Wasatch, Juab, Morgan, and Tooele Counties. This combined urban area plus Summit County, will be home to 8 of every 10 Utahns by 2065.
Washington County is projected to continue its own remarkable growth path, surpassing half a million (509,000) residents by 2065. Its projected population growth is unparalleled in the state, ultimately surpassing Weber to become the third most populous county in the state. Its cumulative growth rate (229 percent) is the most rapid of all Utah counties.
Our 50-year look into the future indicates that net migration is projected to consistently contribute to Utah’s population growth, accounting for one third of the increase in population. Two thirds of the growth is generated by births outpacing deaths. Because migrants tend to be young adults, many of the births over the projection period are children born to new arrivals in Utah. So, the true contribution of migrants to Utah includes their children and grandchildren as well. Because of Utah’s increasing global connectedness, international migrants will continue to come. As these new residents come to Utah, they will add to the ethnic, cultural, and linguistic diversity to our growing state.
This growth is expected to continue even as fertility continues to decline and the median age increases. Total fertility rates are projected to decline, but remain above replacement, meaning that each subsequent generation is larger than its predecessor. Life expectancy is projected to increase. The combined effect will be a smaller household sizes. These are national and international trends that have impacted and will continue to impact Utah.
Even as Utah is trending in the same direction as the nation in these demographic characteristics, it will, for the foreseeable future, maintain its signature demographics. The Utah population is projected to be more rapidly growing, younger, and have larger households than the rest of the nation.
Over the next months and years, we will build on this work to continue to explore our growing and changing state.
Dr. Pamela Perlich is the director of demographic research at the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute.