SALT LAKE CITY — In the summer of 2013, four prominent economists from Harvard and the University of California (Berkeley) named Salt Lake City one of the best places in the country for upward mobility. Low-income kids who grew up in the region, the researchers found, had some of the greatest chances of moving up the income ladder as they aged.
Salt Lake City, with roughly 180,000 residents, shared the admirable distinction with major coastal cities such as San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, Washington, D.C., New York, and Boston. The list generated significant buzz in academic, economic, and urban-planning circles both for its broad scope and for its finding that where people live can profoundly affect their children's economic futures. The U.S. is no longer uniformly the land of opportunity, the study showed, unless you happened to live in the right place.
For their part, Salt Lake City officials heralded the study as yet another piece of evidence for the region's high quality of life, alongside its low unemployment rate. But for another group of locals — social workers, educators, and community advocates — the study was also a cautionary tale.
In their view, the study reflected Salt Lake City's recent past, when the population was far more homogeneous and its economic challenges easier to address. The description no longer fits the city as neatly, given its increased diversity, burdened education system, and neighborhoods increasingly segregated by class. "From what I see every day, we are in a real crisis right now," says Rosemarie Hunter, a social worker and the director of University Neighborhood Partners, a University of Utah outreach neighborhood program centered on low-income communities. "Not all, but of those some of the markers that gave us that great ranking have gone away."