Going forward in Utah County, education, health and housing will be the focus of local community outreach partners, according to the 2018 Utah County Community Assessment presented Tuesday.
As Bill Hulterstrom, United Way of Utah County president and CEO, explained, there is a vision residents have for the community, and there is a reality — and there is a gap between the vision and reality. He hopes that county organizations, cities and residents will not have to lower their vision to meet reality, but will raise the reality to fit the vision.
According to the Community Assessment report, Utah County is the youngest county in the United States, with 34.2 percent of its population under the age of 18. Additionally, 19.5 percent of Utah County’s population is under age 10. On the other end of the spectrum, projections show a 111 percent projected increase by 2030 of those that are 65 and older and living in Utah County.
The county’s growth leads to a focus on these three key issues.
Housing is a major issue for the county, and Hulterstom said the lack of housing is going to continue to plague the community. According to the report, Utah County’s population growth is outpacing housing units. In fact, in just a one year period housing costs have gone up 7.9 percent.
“How many salaries did that?” Hulterstrom joked.
All joking aside, housing prices are pricing out many members of our community. To confront that issue, part of the answer is higher density in cities around the county, though many say they don’t want it in their neighborhoods.
“We still have many in our community who want housing to be the way it was 30, 40 years ago, but we’ve got to come up with solutions that’s affordable for folks,” he said, adding that in Utah County many think affordable housing serves “the stereotypical folks who always need support.”
But that is not the case.
“In Utah County, it’s our kids who need affordable housing …. We don’t have a place for our kids to live. And if we’re not careful, we’re going to stifle the economic development of our community with a lack of housing,” he concluded.
Moving forward United Way of Utah County will hold meetings about each of these issues independently, and will take an even deeper look at the data and its ramifications. The first discussion, on income and housing, will be April 25. The team will then look at education concerns this summer, and further health data and issues this fall.
In education, Hulterstrom presented data Tuesday that shows Utah County is the seventh most educated county in the nation, in regards to the ratio of adults with college education. Despite this, there has been a slight decrease in the percentage of children reading at grade level in the third grade.
“This is my most confusing slide I have here today,” Hulterstrom said of the data displaying Grade 3 reading scores. He explained local organizations have been tracking data on Grade 3 reading scores for a number of years now. The numbers appeared to be improving, hitting a high of 83 percent of third-graders reading at or above grade level.
“But we’re seeing dips again,” Hulterstrom said, adding this is of major concern, because Grade 3 reading scores are fairly accurate predictors of high school dropout rates. Hulterstrom called on all in the community to work together to tackle this issue.
“We cannot expect that only the schools will solve this for us. It takes a community and parents helping to get kids ready for this,” he said.
Regarding health issues in the community, the data pointed to an increase in depression in both adults and youth. In 2011, the percentage of students who reported they had felt “sad or hopeless almost every day for two weeks or more in a row” in the last 12 months was 13.1 percent. In 2017, that number had almost doubled to 25 percent.
“That is a startling — I’ll use the word ‘frightening’ — number,” Hulterstrom said. “This is an issue that seems to touch virtually every household, or someone close to that household.”
As for suicide, only 8.6 percent of students had “seriously considered attempting suicide” in 2011. Again, that number almost doubled in 2017 to 15.3 percent. Even more shocking, only 5.4 percent of students had “made a plan about how to attempt suicide” in 2011, while 12.5 percent reported that in 2017.