Utah's population growth slows

Migration slacks off - Demographers say fewer people are following jobs here.

Salt Lake Tribune/November 21, 2008

Economic reality appears to have caught up to Utah this year, slowing both the number of people moving here and the total population growth.

Still, the state has inched to nearly 2.8 million people in the 12 months ending June 30, according to demographic and business experts on the Utah Population Estimates Committee.

Homegrown growth

Salt Lake County epitomized the trend of birth-driven growth. For the first time since 2003, more people left Utah's most-populous county than moved in. Migration siphoned away 2,616 people during the past year, but there were enough births to drive the county's 1.1 percent growth rate to a population of 1.03 million.

Statewide, the 2.2 percent population increase is off a full percentage point from the previous year. Part of the slowdown came from a declining job magnet that drew just less than 17,000 people. The previous year was a record for migration to Utah, with more than 44,000 outsiders settling here.

Utah County continued to draw people from elsewhere, with a net migration of 7,600, as the state's second-most-populous county swelled by 3.6 percent to nearly 520,000.

Less Mormon than ever

The percentage of Utahns who are Mormons continued its slow decline during the past year, dipping three-tenths of a percentage point to 60.4 percent, according to numbers The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gives to the state to help project population.

Each drop sets a record low, at least when compared to any other publicly available number.

Mormons comprise 50.7 percent of Salt Lake County, 76.5 percent of Utah County and 68.5 percent of Davis County. The most Mormon county is Morgan (80.8 percent) and the least LDS county is Grand (26.1 percent).

A new 'Taylorsville'

The new crop of Utahns this year totaled just more than 58,000, about the size of Taylorsville in the central Salt Lake Valley. That's about seven new Utahns every hour. Last year's growth of 84,000 was more like a new Ogden -- and was a record.

Despite its ebbing growth, Utah appears on track to pick up a fourth congressional seat after the 2010 census -- it barely missed out on one from the 2000 head count.

"From our projections, it looks highly likely that Utah would qualify," state planning coordinator Mike Mower said. "Utah was just on the cusp last time."

Beyond the Uintas

The highs and lows in Utah's migration game are in the rural east.

Vernal's natural-gas boom propelled Uintah County to a state-high 5.7 percent growth rate. Utah's 11th-largest county now numbers 30,466, and added 1,170 migrants. Even at that high rate, the state may be underestimating Uintah's growth, said Bill Johnson, a committee member and economic-development director at Uintah Basin Applied Technology College. Many gas workers live in motels or file their taxes back home in states such as Texas, evading methods that the state uses to count residents.

Just to the north, around Flaming Gorge Reservoir, Utah's smallest county was the only one to lose population last year. Daggett dropped nine people and now tips the scales at 964 Utahns.

Dixie downturn

Washington County grew 2.7 percent last year to about 145,000 people, according to the state. But county officials in St. George think their tally of garbage contracts and gas hookups brings the total closer to 150,000. University of Utah demographer Pam Perlich said the county overbuilt during the housing boom, and it wouldn't be surprising if many new homes are vacant even after developers arrange for services to them.

Either way, the growth rate is well off of last year's 4.5 percent clip.

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