June 02, 2016

A Comparative Look at Utah and Colorado: Economic Opportunity

dreamstime s 40303844 working mom baby cropped verticalThe goal of the Working Families Benchmarking Project is to identify a variety of economic trends affecting working families across Utah, and then to examine those issues through a comparative lens, evaluating Utah’s overall progress by using a peer state as a benchmark. Colorado was chosen for this inaugural edition, in part for its geographic proximity to Utah — and thus relatively similar regional identity — as well as for its comparable rates of economic and population growth, demographics, and policy challenges.

Many existing economic comparison studies and rankings look at the economy as a whole or at its impact on specific sectors or on employers.  This project seeks to augment those very useful comparisons by focusing on how the economy is experienced by middle and lower-income families. In particular, it is these families whose children are most at risk for not achieving their potential in school and later in the workplace and in society in general.  Thus, how they experience the economy is of particular interest to Voices for Utah Children.   

In Part I of the Project, we focus on economic opportunity. The dynamism, flexibility, and competitiveness of a state’s economy is a major contributor to economic opportunity, so we look at this topic through a wide range of metrics, from business climate and entrepreneurship rankings to educational attainment and demographic gaps.  

Utah ranks ahead of Colorado in:

  • colorado is ahead of Utah GDP but Utah is closing the gapBusiness climate rankings
  • Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth
  • Lower unemployment
  • Labor force participation
  • Higher education system investment
  • Referring fewer minority youth to the correctional system
  • Reducing inequality and increasing social mobility

Colorado outpaces Utah in:

  • Pre-K and kindergarten enrollment
  • K-12 investment and performance
  • Higher education attainment
  • Workforce productivity
  • Entrepreneurship
  • The status of women in the economy

working families benchmark utah colorado

The gaps in educational attainment are perhaps the finding
of greatest concern for Utah’s long-term future.

education rankings Utah and Colorado 10124 image001

Utah fell behind in college degrees

Since education is the foundation of opportunity and prosperity in a modern economy, Colorado’s success in educating its population and attracting highly educated migrants from other states may well hold lessons for Utah. Utah is wise to invest more that Colorado in higher education to attempt to make up this gap and should apply a similar lesson in the area of pre-K-12 funding.

As Utah builds on its many assets and grapples with its challenges in the years to come, we hope that this benchmarking project may contribute in a constructive way to the broader economic policy conversation among experts, policymakers, and the general public.  

For more detailed information, see the complete printer-friendly report:

benchmarking utah colorado cover 1
pdf Working Families Benchmarking Project Part One: Economic Opportunity

These measures of economic opportunity also relate directly to the questions we address in Part 2: Standard of Living.




For 30 years now, Voices for Utah Children has called on our state, federal and local leaders to put children’s needs first. But the work is not done. The children of 30 years ago now have children of their own. Too many of these children are growing up in poverty, without access to healthcare or quality educational opportunities.

How can you be involved?

Make a tax-deductible donation to Voices for Utah Children—or join our Network with a monthly donation of $20 or more.  Network membership includes complimentary admission to Network events with food, socializing, and opportunity to meet child advocacy experts. And don't forget to join our listserv to stay informed!

We look forward to the future of Voices for Utah Children and we hope you will be a part of our next 30 years.

Special thanks to American Express for sponsoring our 30th Anniversary Year. Amex