By Krisana Finlay
This Utah legislative session covers 1,200-plus bills, and with only 45 days to cover them all, legislators need to know what issues matters most.
Luckily the newly published Family Prosperity Index (FPI), of which Sutherland gave a recent general overview, gives legislators a few things to keep in mind.
- Thanks in part to Utah legislators, Utah ranks No. 1 in the nation for family prosperity.
It’s important to remember where we are doing well, and as a whole, Utah surpasses all other states with flying colors. It takes the national lead in five of the six FPI major indexes. In the economics category Utah comes in second to North Dakota, thanks to that state’s fracking boom, which affected the statistics this year and since then has reportedly declined.1
Why is Utah ranked No. 1 nationally?
Utah citizens and lawmakers uphold the cherished principle that family is the fundamental unit of society. This fundamental unit is the driving force behind everything they do – framing how they go about the day’s work and the night’s play. All is geared toward building strong families. Strong families facilitate functional cultures, capable communities and enriched economies. And the FPI proves it.
Utah is experiencing true prosperity considering its robust scores on almost all major prosperity index scores. But all of its flying banners of success cannot discount two areas of real concern: self-mortality overall, and conditions in Salt Lake County.
- Utah Legislators need to take an uncomfortable but direct look at self-mortality.
Utah does well in the major index of family health. We’re in the top 10 states for low rates of tobacco, alcohol, and obesity, illicit drug use, sexually transmitted disease rates, and high rates of infant survival. But Utah has a serious problem with self-mortality, ranking 45th in the nation because of its suicide and drug-overdose rates.
It’s bad. Utah’s suicide rate has consistently measured above the national average and has accelerated at a faster rate, increasing 43 percent between 2000 and 2014 (the national average increased 29 percent).1 Leaders have been confounded when it comes to resolving this problem, in part from the myriad risk factors: domestic violence, bullying, alcohol or drug abuse, local epidemics of suicide,2 increased elevation, or feeling constrained when it comes to seeking help.3
This combination of risk factors may be providing the perfect storm. Domestic abuse, high stress in school or work, high expectations, addiction, and technology offering counterfeit connections instead of real relationships and resources may cause a person to consider dire alternatives.
Drug-Overdose Rates and Opioid Addiction
Utah’s drug-overdose rates are also a concern. Utah’s rates have been higher than the national average, although growing at a slower rate.1 Luckily, the 21st Century Cure Act Congress passed just last December offers help. This bipartisan legislation takes a comprehensive approach in solving opioid overdoses and distributes $1 billion of its budget to states to address local health concerns. This funding distribution will take place early this year, in perfect timing for the Utah legislative session.
U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan in a recent town hall meeting commented, “We have to have a full-front war against this opioid epidemic, and that is exactly what we passed and funded.” Along with that help, Salt Lake County must also solve some full-front wars of its own.
- Salt Lake County needs help
The most populous county in the state, Salt Lake County reports having a higher violent crime rate, higher rate of families with children below poverty level, and the lowest level of married taxpayers in the state. It also had 4,412 of the 9,687 unwed births in the state (46 percent).1
To answer the why behind these statistics, the FPI offers the following insight, citing a 2012 domestic policy report from The Heritage Foundation:
“Not surprisingly, many of these factors are interrelated. For example, children from single-parent homes, emanating from a high unwed birth rate, are more prone to criminal activities in youth (more than twice as likely to be arrested) and young adulthood (three times more likely to be in jail by age 30) relative to children from intact married families.” 1
A guide to resolving self-mortality and Salt Lake County concerns
Boyd Matheson recently said, “In areas where we lack effective solutions it is usually because we are avoiding uncomfortable conversations.”
Taking on these uncomfortable conversations will inevitably cause leaders to engage with various community participants: community officials, families, churches, industry professionals, and other legislators. These engagements will bring understanding and naturally community-driven solutions.
Simply put, community problems require community engagement. Community engagement brings community solutions. Community solutions bring community prosperity. We applaud and encourage community officials who initiate difficult conversations in the hopes of resolving family health and Salt Lake County problems.
All in all, Utah is doing incredibly well in regard to family prosperity. FPI authors wrote, “[I]t’s not even a close race with Utah’s dominating performance on the FPI across nearly every major index.”1
Utah holds a high standard for true prosperity. It leads the nation because Utah residents understand the family is the economic engine of society. The stronger the family, the stronger the engine, and the further Utah will go amid whatever lies ahead. As legislators look to resolve Utah’s unique struggles, a prosperous and enduring community will result. Such endurance and strength only comes through sustaining core principles, ones that Sutherland is committed to uphold.
- P. Warcholik and J.S. Moody, Utah Family Prosperity Index, January 2017, American Conservative Union Foundation, website.
- “Complete Health Indicator Report of Suicide,” July 15, 2016, accessed January 12, 2017, https://ibis.health.utah.gov/indicator/complete_profile/SuicDth.html.
- L. Price, “Utah officials unsure why youth suicide has nearly tripled since 2007,” Salt Lake Tribune, July 3, 2016, http://www.sltrib.com/news/4075258-155/story.html.