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News Conference Talking Points
American Community Survey: Salt Lake City
Salt Lake City, Utah · 10 May 2007

Preston Jay Waite
Deputy Director, U.S. Census Bureau


Thank you, Governor. It’s good to be home in the valleys of the mountains. Although for the past 36 years I have lived and worked at the U.S. Census Bureau near our Nation’s Capital, Washington, D.C., my roots and my heart remain in here in Utah.

You see, I was born, raised, and educated in a small town in Cache Valley, Utah. My three married daughters and all of my 10 grandchildren live in Utah. My oldest daughter lives in my childhood home and is raising her family in that same town.

Although Hyde Park has the same name and many of the same family names as it did when I was a child in 1950, the town and the task of managing the needs of the residents of that town are as different today from the Hyde Park of 1950 as night is different from day.

The Hyde Park of 1950 had a population of approximately 600 people. It had only one paved road; no crime; and, therefore, no police force; one school covering grades 1-8 with a faculty of four – including the principal. It had no child care centers; no senior citizens centers; no public sewer system; no city garbage collection; no town hall; but then there was not much governing that needed to be done. Therefore, not very much data was needed to govern. Change came very slow and mostly folks just accommodated it as best they could.

Today the city of Hyde Park boasts a population of about 3,000 with virtually all the services and the challenges of managing those services that were absent in 1950. Today the mayor and city council need to worry about zoning and planning and managing the town’s resources for the betterment of the community that far exceeds anything that the residents of Hyde Park in 1950 could have imagined.

Imagine if you will, managing Salt Lake City or, in the case of Governor Huntsman, the entire state of Utah with data from 1950.

In fact, even managing with data from the most recent census in 2000 is getting more difficult every year.

Utah is changing and so are its needs for data. To respond to these needs, the Census Bureau in 2005 implemented the American Community Survey (ACS).

If the Utah of 2007 looked like the Utah of 1950, perhaps we would not need the ACS. You know, and the Governor knows all too well, that it does not.

The American Community Survey is a powerful new tool that provides communities the detailed data they need to make decisions every year, rather than just once a decade. Data is collected on important social, economic and housing characteristics such as migration, language spoken at home, transportation, educational attainment, property value, and household income. This information is needed every day by state officials — such as Governor Huntsman — as well as by local governments and the private sector to plan and make decisions —decisions that affect not only Utahns but every person living in America.

These vital data were historically available only once a decade, as part of the decennial census, a snapshot of the population that became increasingly outdated with each passing year. But now, the American Community Survey data will be available every year – providing elected officials, community leaders and businesses with an annually updated, moving picture of how things are changing. This will help them to better plan and evaluate infrastructure and social service programs, such as where to build a new school or day-care center. Transportation planners use the data to help ease congestion and determine where to add new bus routes or roads.

The American Community Survey is a vital tool for America’s businesses and communities. Looking ahead, it is also the cornerstone to the reengineered 2010 Census. The Census Bureau will, in 2010, for the first time conduct a short-form only census. This will be the shortest and simplest census form since 1790. Having a short-form census that asks just a few questions and will take most people less than 10 minutes to complete will be key to getting an accurate count of the nation – and of the state of Utah. I don’t need to tell residents of Utah how important it is to get a complete census count.

Besides bringing Utah’s share of political power to the state, there’s a lot of money at stake – more than $200 billion annually in federal funds gets distributed back to state and local governments based in whole or in part on census data.

And of course, Utah has undergone more growth and changes than most states between 2000 and 2006. According to the Census Bureau’s recent state population estimates, Utah had the sixth fastest growing population in America. Governor Huntsman, that’s a lot of new people and a lot changes for your state – in a very short time.

Understanding and addressing these changes will help you govern the state and prepare for identifying and counting new residents living in Utah during the 2010 Census.

It’s hard for us to imagine the challenges that will face governors and mayors in Utah in 2050, but one thing is for sure – those challenges will be better met by current, timely data about how things are, not how they were. The American Community Survey is an important tool NOW, and will be in the future.

I’d now like to share just a few of the many important characteristics we provided last August to illustrate how the American Community Survey can provide useful data not only to your state but also to business and community organizations focused on improving your quality of life.

ACS data is currently available for all governments of 65,000 population or more. This includes my home county of Cache, in addition to Davis, Salt Lake, Utah, Washington and Weber counties. Data for cities are available for Ogden, Orem, Provo, Salt Lake City, Sandy, West Jordan, and West Valley City. Beginning in 2008, data will be available for all governments of 20,000 or more. And by 2010, annual updates will be available every year for all governments and for geographies down to the census block-group level.

So, why are people choosing Utah to call home?

Well, people, as well as businesses, are looking for opportunities and a good quality of life — this can mean many things.

Educational Attainment

  • Education data, along with other key characteristics such as household income, property values, and commute times can serve as reliable indicators of the quality of life.
  • Among states, Utah had one of the highest percentages of high school graduates, age 25 and over, at 90.1 percent. That’s significantly higher than the national average of 84.2 percent.
  • Drilling down below the state level, Utah counties that we measured, fared well and were all above the national average. Davis County had a rate of 94.5 percent, while here in Salt Lake County, an estimated 88.7 percent of the population, age 25 and over, had graduated high school.
  • Utah’s college graduation rate of 27.9 percent was about the same as the national figure of 27.2 percent.
  • Among counties with the percentage of its adult population having at least a bachelor’s degree, Cache and Utah counties were about 35 percent. Washington (20.9 percent) and Weber (23.0) counties, had somewhat lower rates.
  • According to the ACS, Utah cities are also doing very well in terms of education levels. In fact, most cities in Utah had a higher percentage of college graduates than the national rate of 27.2 percent. Those cities include Orem (37.8 percent), Provo (40.4), Salt Lake City (35.6), and Sandy (34.7).

Median Household Income

  • Median household income is also a crucial statistic used in both public and private planning. According to the American Community Survey, Utah’s median household income was nearly about $48,000 in 2005.
  • Among counties, Davis’ median household income outpaced all others at about $57,000. While in Cache and Washington counties, the median household income was in the lower $40,000 range.
  • Like Davis County, it appears that living in Sandy has its advantages, with its residents having a median household income of about $66,000 annually.

Median Housing Value

  • Of course, the next question for anyone — whether it’s a corporate analyst or a family — is “how much does it really cost to live here?”
  • One of the best indicators is housing values. As most of you probably know, there is new housing construction in and around the metro area at all price levels. Utah’s percentage of new homes was among the highest in the country at 12.8 percent.
  • Utah’s median housing value of $167,200 was lower than most other Western states, but about the same as the national average of $167,500.
  • The median value of a single-family home here in Salt Lake City was $180,500. Orem, Provo, and West Jordan had housing values of about $170,000. My daughter recently moved back to Utah from Maryland where my wife and I currently live – she can personally attest to the affordability of Utah’s housing. By the way, Maryland’s median housing value was 280,200 in 2005. Next year, with the American Community survey, and every year thereafter, we will have data to show how prices are increasing, showing how Utah continues to change.

Commute to Work

  • The next question, you may ask is, “how’s the commute?”
  • Well, Utah was among the top states with the shortest commute time at only 20.5 minutes. If you live in Provo, you have an even better commute, at 15.0 minutes. Salt Lake City is about 17.4 minutes, according to the ACS.
  • Among counties for which 2005 data is available, Davis, Salt Lake, and Weber counties had slightly longer commutes at about 21 minutes, than Utah and Washington counties, which were about 18 minutes.

A few minutes ago, I mentioned that people and businesses are often looking for the same things: opportunities and a good quality of life. They ask important questions about education, income, housing, and commuting. I believe the American Community Survey is the source that will help answer these important questions for Salt Lake City and Utah.

There are a lot more data available on our website at www.census.gov and in your packets. I’m very pleased that Pam Perlich is with us today to talk about how data from the American Community Survey is used to understand and better plan for Utah’s changing population.

After this press conference, I will be getting on a plane to return to Maryland, but I won’t be staying there forever. In the meantime, I will work to ensure that the Census Bureau provides you with the data you need to keep Utah growing and a desirable place where people (maybe even me) will want to come to and make it home.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau | Public Information Office | PIO@census.gov | Last Revised: June 14, 2013