Megan McArdle went to Utah seeking answers. How is it that Utah has upward mobility approaching the most progressive nations in the world? She attempted to answer in an article published yesterday in Bloomberg:
What is Upward Mobility?
If you are born in the bottom 25% of the population, how likely is it that you’ll pull yourself up into the top 25% of the population?
Denmark leads the world with a documented upward mobility a bit over 11%.
In Salt Lake City, upward mobility is just under 11%, the highest in the United States. By comparison, Charlotte, North Carolina, has upward mobility of only 4%.
Money Can’t Buy Dreams: Utah doesn’t spend to achieve this mobility. It’s spending on education per pupil is dead last in the nation.
Welfare, Mormon-style: But Utah government is able to lean on the many Mormons in the community. The Mormon welfare system comes in for astonished praise: Help them out, but get them to a point where they can help themselves.
Mercy: Regardling the dire poor, McArdle talks about how Utah prioritizes getting people in housing, “Housing First.” This can rankle with people who believe the poor deserve their plight, but in Mormon-dominated Utah, mercy tends to take precedent over justice.
Regarding others as Equals: In Utah the poor and the rich are in the same communities. The geographically-based Mormon congregations come in for a good part of this egalitarianism. In Utah people tend to see each other as equals. Children get to know those in the upper 25% of the economic pecking order, having a chance to have these folks as mentors and role models. McArdle suggests Utah’s racial sameness contributes to the lack of distrust and animosity seen on other communities.
Marriage: Finally, McArdle points out that marriage matters. Children raised by married parents fare better, putting them in a position to aspire to the upper middle class in their later lives. Even when there are single parents, children in a community where the majority of children have married parents do better, despite the unmarried state of their own parent(s).
McArdle worries that these factors that make Utah such a dreamy place aren’t easily replicated without Mormonism. But she hopes that some aspects of what makes Utah a place where every child can dream of aspire economic prosperity could be an example for other communities, if only to see that upward mobility is possible.