Forget Fastest Growing, Focus on Food, Shelter and Well-Being
The place where we live is the fastest growing area in the nation. We have record unemployment (3.1%) and a thriving economy. Our government policies earned us the title of "best managed state" in the nation. From a business and economic standpoint, we are at the top.
So how can we have these troubling statistics concerning our well-being?
We have child poverty at 12%, food insecurity ("child hunger") at 19%, young people living at home is over 30%, suicide rate is 4 times the national average, an opioid addiction crisis, average wages at near the lowest in the nation and even lower for women. Food (one in five are hungry), shelter (one in three cannot afford a house) and well-being (crisis in suicide, opioids, lowest wages) are not consistent with this great economy.
Is it time to rethink the way we measure growth and prosperity?
Environmental outcomes: As conservative capitalists, we want to conserve our capital. Maybe our growth measures should include capital like environmental outcomes and the social well-being of Utah families. The environmental capital of Utah is a national treasure. We must protect it for future generations. We only collect the interest ($1 billion in tourism per year), but never touch the capital. Extracting fossil fuels would ruin our precious landscapes and endanger the balance of our fragile desert wildlife.
Social well-being: The social well-being of families includes another controversial – but sadly, not unsurprising – piece of valuable capital. That is the contribution of women whose unpaid efforts are overlooked by economic policy. Caring for the elderly, the disabled and the children of the family while maintaining a job contributes abundantly to the capital value of our state. We must protect this capital by expanding government policies like affordable childcare, paid family leave, SNAP, EITC, Obamacare, expanded Medicaid and higher minimum wages. A lack of attainable workforce housing is holding back full participation in our thriving economy. Thirty percent of young people live with their parents because wages are too low for available housing.
Empathy: Another capital asset for Utahns is caring for one another. Our new measures of successful growth include valuing women's contributions, income equality, attainable workforce housing, sustainable development, welcoming immigrants and environmental protections – all are inextricably linked to our social well-being.
When you grow up in extreme poverty, you survive because you help each other. Many poor and marginalized people live like this. Because I have been in their shoes, I try to treat people equally no matter what they look like, where they come from, how they worship, who they love or how poor they are. This empathy, this caring for one another, is a capital asset.
We should measure the prosperity of Utah by its environmental outcomes, the quality of life and well-being of its people and by the empathy we have for marginalized communities.
As economist Joseph Stiglitz says: “What we measure informs what we do. And if we’re measuring the wrong thing, we’re going to do the wrong thing.”
Chuck Goode is chair of the Washington County Democratic Party.