A head-scratching analysis of (dead) American adulthood

questionA story by New York Times film critic A.O. Scott last month declared adulthood dead in the United States. Well, maybe, but his reasons for thinking so are not the ones I’d choose.

Much of his argument seems to rest on the death of patriarchy in pop culture, with a side journey into American literature and history. Go ahead, read the whole meandering thing here.

Among other things, he cringes at the fact that American adults are reading (gasp!) young adult fiction. Well … that might have something to do with the fact that Harry Potter and other high-quality juvenile books are better written than many books aimed at “adults.” (Please forgive those of us “adults” who enjoy plots and moral clarity.)

Scott also sniffs at middle-age men “wearing shorts and flip-flops,” as if they should all be in Cary Grant-type suits 24/7.

David Marcus, in the Federalist, gave Scott’s New York Times piece a big eyeroll:

The first object of Scott’s imagination that needs to be tackled is his argument that “Mad Men,” “Breaking Bad,” and “The Sopranos” are influencing and reflecting a turn away from male adulthood in our culture. …

Scott doesn’t fare much better as he wades into the history of America and its letters to find foreshadowing for our current crisis of masculinity. His readers are treated to a description of the founders of the United States in which they are not fathers, but “late adolescents.” Benjamin Franklin is his primary example, and while it’s true Franklin had his dalliances, he also pretty much invented everything we use in our houses. Meanwhile, the notion that Adams, Jefferson, and Washington were adolescent is really just bizarre. In Scott’s version, the American Revolution is little more than a temper tantrum directed at daddy figure George III.

Click here to read the rest of Marcus’ entertaining critique.

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Infographic: How many drinks per week?

imrs
The above chart contains some interesting – and eye-popping – information about American alcohol consumption.

First, 60 percent of Americans either don’t drink at all (30 percent) or, on average, have less than one drink per week (30 percent). But the top 10 percent of American drinkers? Let’s just say their livers might some day be used as an example of how not to treat your body.

What does this mean for public policy? For starters, it suggests that raising alcohol taxes is a fair and likely effective way to combat the social costs of alcohol consumption (e.g., traffic deaths, health problems, and economic harm due to decreased productivity).

Higher alcohol taxes are fair because they amount to a user fee – you only pay if you choose to drink – and because they have minimal impact on the vast majority of responsible drinkers who, in the end, will not drink an exorbitant amount of alcohol, and therefore will pay only a small amount of the increased tax.

And higher alcohol taxes are likely to be effective because, while they will have minimal impact on moderate and responsible drinkers, they will have a significant impact on the problem drinkers that consume mind-boggling amounts of alcohol (taking for granted that having more than 10 drinks per day on a regular basis is difficult for most people to comprehend).

Conservatives tend to hesitate at any call to increase taxes, and rightly so. But thoughtful conservatives also understand that not all taxes are made equal – some taxes are fairer than others; some taxes are less economically and socially harmful than others (and some, like alcohol taxes, can even be beneficial for society); and maintaining a reasonable level of taxes is necessary for good government.

Alcohol taxes – and specifically the policy of increasing alcohol taxes from current levels – fall into this category of a fair, beneficial (or at least minimally harmful), and reasonable tax, when given thoughtful consideration.

Click here to learn more about Sutherland’s position on alcohol policy in Utah.

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How states that take the federal bait end up on the hook – Sutherland Soapbox, 10/14/14

Fisherman_and_his_catch_SeychellesThis post is a transcript of a 4-minute weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations.

Last week, Sutherland Institute had the opportunity to meet with Tarren Bragdon while he was in Utah’s capital. Tarren is CEO of the Foundation for Government Accountability – also known as the FGA – an independent, nonprofit policy organization based in Naples, Florida. With a focus on healthcare and welfare issues, the FGA works with policy makers in about 20 states helping them fix big-government and broken healthcare and welfare programs. Among their priorities is freeing people from dependence on government and helping them move on to a better life.

Medicaid expansion is a significant topic across the nation. A number of states have decided to expand while others have not. As Utah is in the process of working toward making that decision, Bragdon discussed with Sutherland key elements of this important issue that he and his colleagues are addressing as they meet with legislators and decision-makers across the nation. In the videotaped interview, Tarren talked about Medicaid expansion in general and briefly about the Healthy Utah Plan proposed by Governor Herbert.

In the brief, 14-minute interview, he describes the informative experience of states that have made the decision to expand Medicaid and, with the body of information now emerging, he highlights points of particular relevance he believes Utah policy-makers should keep in mind as they work through the decision process:

Essentially, what you have right now is the federal government dangling this promise of federal money in front of the states, hoping the states will embrace this Medicaid expansion voluntarily because they want this federal money to flow into their states. But what we’re seeing is that just like with almost every welfare expansion, that the prediction of how much it would cost is very different than the reality. And so we’re seeing states already having dramatically higher enrollment in Medicaid expansion than what they projected and dramatically higher costs. It turns out these individuals are much more expensive to cover than single moms. And so states are already seeing this as a budget buster. In states like Arkansas, the state taxpayers are on the hook for tens of millions of dollars just in the first year.

He then explains what this means for the most vulnerable populations – for whom Medicaid was implemented in the first place:

What that has meant in the states, and we’ve already seen this happen, is they will cut back Medicaid programs when times are tough for those most vulnerable populations because those are the populations who they have the lower match for. … Typically, lawmakers focus on making those cuts to the most vulnerable. We saw this in Arizona where, when the Medicaid expansion for childless adults got out of control, the Legislature voted to cut heart and lung transplants.

Continue reading

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Video: The risks of Medicaid expansion and Healthy Utah

What is the significance of the numbers 1, 3 and 10 when it comes to Medicaid expansion? Watch this video to find out:

In this interview, Tarren Bragdon, CEO of the Foundation for Government Accountability (FGA), and Stan Rasmussen, director of public affairs for Sutherland Institute, discuss Medicaid expansion in general and the Healthy Utah Plan proposed by Governor Gary Herbert.

Bragdon, whose nonprofit is based in Naples, Fla., talks about the experiences of states that have made the decision to expand Medicaid – and why Utah should be wary of the “free” federal money offered for expanding Medicaid.

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Ethanol: How politics takes an interest in you

Cornrows“Politics isn’t for me.”

“I’m too busy with everyday life to bother with politics.”

These are refrains we often hear and perhaps have said ourselves. The problem with this thinking, however, is that politics affects our daily lives with ever-increasing regularity.

The Athenian general Pericles famously said, “Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn’t mean politics won’t take an interest in you.”

How true this has turned out to be! Take, for instance, something as mundane as going to the grocery store. You’d think there’s no politics in groceries, right? It’s just a farmer selling a customer a head of lettuce, or a baker selling a loaf of bread, right?

Nope. Politics has taken an interest in food.

Between 2006 and 2013 food prices increased 22 percent, far more than prices of other goods. This cost the average family an additional $2,000 a year and came at a time when jobs were scarcer and wages weren’t increasing. What caused this drastic rise in the price of your groceries?

Or, more specifically, the federal government’s mandate that a certain amount of biofuel be added to your gasoline. So instead of farmers planting crops based on what you buy at the grocery store, they switched to corn en masse. Suddenly, there was less of every other crop being grown, and we all got a lesson in Econ 101’s supply-and-demand cycle.

But this mandate didn’t just affect prices of vegetables and grains. You see, the federal government’s biofuel requirements were so hefty that even after growers switched their fields to corn, there still wasn’t enough to go around. So corn prices went up too. And everything that depends upon the price of corn feed went up – meat, poultry, dairy. Not only are vegetables more expensive, but so is milk, cheese and butter. We’re talking the very staples of Americans’ dinners.

Why would our politicians do something like this? And why wouldn’t they fix it at a time of massive job losses and stagnant wages?

When enough citizens ignore politics, it amplifies the influence of those who do take an interest in what government can do. There’s money to be made when government arbitrarily increases the price of food – and those who make that money don’t say, “I’m too busy to bother with politics.” They are acutely aware of how politics take an interest in you.

Rejection of a faraway government meddling in our daily lives is what this nation was founded upon. An engaged citizenry voting for good representation is the only way to keep it.

Want to dig deeper? Click here to explore this topic at Utah Citizen Network.

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Energy development boosts poor and middle class

Oil_wellAmid the agonizingly slow recovery from the last recession, policy-makers on both sides of the aisle have turned their focus to improving economic mobility for the poor and economic security for the middle class. So from the political left we hear calls to raise the minimum wage, and from the political right we hear proposals to expand the Earned Income Tax Credit and reform welfare programs.

But based on the results of a recently published study from the National Bureau of Economic Research, it seems there is another policy path toward addressing poverty and middle-income security: developing energy resources.

The researchers report that a boom in oil and gas production and employment has significant, positive impacts on nearby employment in manufacturing. This is “because many manufacturers in resource-abundant counties supply inputs to the oil and gas sector, while many others sell locally traded goods and benefit from increases in local demand.” The researchers conclude that their study “highlight[s] how linkages to natural resources can be a driver of manufacturing growth.”

How is this link relevant to economic mobility and security? Jobs on manufacturing and energy development have historically been vehicles for individuals with limited formal education and job skills to move up the economic ladder, and for middle-income families to secure and maintain their advantageous economic position. Subsequently, increasing job opportunities in both sectors through energy resource development has the potential to simultaneously strengthen economic mobility for the poor and economic security for the middle class.

In Utah, this is magnified by the fact that much of the energy resources in the state reside in more rural areas, where economic development and job opportunities can be limited. In other words, energy development and manufacturing growth provide greater possibilities for rural Utah to keep younger generations in the area and/or bring in new people, instead of losing or never having a chance with them because most good job opportunities are to be found in more urbanized areas and cities.

As policymakers consider ways to use policy to provide new economic opportunities to the poor or to shore up the position and outlook of the middle class, they should remember the potential of energy development to do both.

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Video: Arthur Brooks, Sen. Mike Lee at Sutherland event

AEI president Arthur Brooks speaks at a Sutherland dinner with his characteristic optimism and humor. (Photo © Sutherland Institute)

AEI president Arthur Brooks speaks at a Sutherland dinner with his characteristic optimism and humor. (Photo © Sutherland Institute)

If you haven’t had a chance to watch our video of Sen. Mike Lee and AEI president Arthur Brooks sharing ideas for fighting poverty, now’s a good time! Click on the photo at left.

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Generous Utah: Study says we’re tops in charitable giving

The darker green regions indicate a higher giving ratio. Click the graphic for more information.

The darker green regions indicate a higher giving ratio. Click the graphic for more information.

A new study once again confirms that Utah is the model for the country for charitable giving. The Chronicle of Philanthropy measured gifts to charity by analyzing itemized taxpayer deductions for 2012, and found Utah to have the highest rate of giving by a wide margin. Utah’s 6.56 percent giving rate is 31% higher than second-place Mississippi’s 4.99 percent. Additionally, Utah’s Millard County is America’s most generous county, and Salt Lake City is the country’s most generous city.

Also interesting to note, the top 17 most generous states voted for Republican Mitt Romney, while 21 of the 24 least generous states voted for Barack Obama. Some on the left say they give less from their personal income because they help the poor by paying taxes that support government programs.

“Liberals show tremendous compassion in pushing for generous government spending to help the neediest people at home and abroad. Yet when it comes to individual contributions to charitable causes, liberals are cheapskates,” wrote The New York Times’ liberal opinion columnist Nicholas Kristof back in 2008. His piece further highlights the conservative/liberal charity disparity.

As conservatives know, voluntary charity is a key component to a thriving, civil society. It helps our neighbors in need while limiting excessive and expensive government programs and bureaucracy. And it often provides the giver a direct connection with the recipient, not to mention increased compassion and humanity for his or her fellow human beings. By cutting out the government middleman, private charitable dollars are used more efficiently, with less waste and more good accomplished. Continue reading

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Take the long view of court’s (non)decision on marriage — Sutherland Soapbox, 10/7/14

Sea_beach_cliff_2004_ubtThis post is a transcript of a 4-minute weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations. 

Utah’s marriage law, and a measure of its self-determination, has now been wiped out by the inaction of the U.S. Supreme Court. As you’ve no doubt heard, that court yesterday [Oct. 6] turned back petitions from Utah and four other states whose marriage laws had been struck down by lower federal courts.

Thus, as Justice Kennedy said, to the edge of the cliff we go. Just 18 months ago, during the Hollingsworth v. Perry Prop 8 case, Justice Anthony Kennedy wondered if the court, or anyone, knew what it needed to know to decide the same-sex-marriage question. Kennedy said, “The problem in the case is that you’re really asking … for us to go into uncharted waters . . . it is a cliff.” Apparently, a little more than 18 months on, the court believes the country is ready to go over that cliff and into those uncharted waters.

After hearing oral arguments in that same Perry case, Notre Dame Law School’s Gerard Bradley described what happened:

Justice Alito looked for “data” on this “institution which is newer than cell phones.”   Same-sex marriage, he said, might turn out to a “good thing”, or “not”, as Proposition 8 supporters “apparently believe.”  Justice Scalia said that there is no “scientific answer” to the decisive “harm” question at this time.”  Justice Sotomayor asked the Solicitor General: why not “let[] the States experiment” for a few more years, to let society “figure out its direction.”

That’s a sample of what they were thinking 18 months ago. It’s impossible to know what precisely the justices were thinking yesterday. One possibility is that one or more of the conservative justices on the court voted not to hear any of the cases because they knew the liberal justices, along with Justice Anthony Kennedy, were poised to make gay marriage the law of the land. Another possibility could be that some justices might have approved of the policy result but just hoped to spare the court of doing the “dirty work” that the circuit courts seemed willing to do.  Continue reading

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The difference between dueling lands polls? It’s education

Panorama_of_the_Great_Salt_Lake_DesertTwo recent polls on federal versus state lands management preferences have seemingly contradictory findings. In fact, they demonstrate one key point: The more people know about the costs and benefits of transferring federal lands to state control, the more they tend to endorse it.

A Center for American Progress poll released late last week claimed that 52 percent of those polled in eight Western states did not want their state to assume control and costs of public lands managed by national resource agencies. But the poll notably omitted any reference to potential benefits of states assuming control and instead listed only potential costs and controversial potential management policies.

Also of note, Utah bucked the apparent trend, with a 52 percent majority expressing a desire for state control. And that finding was echoed in another poll, released earlier this week by UtahPolicy.com, that asked simply whether that state’s residents supported or opposed state government taking control of BLM and Forest Service lands. Sixty percent of respondents supported state control of BLM lands, and 50 percent approved of taking over Forest Service lands in that poll. Fifty-four percent also supported a lawsuit against the federal government to demand control of those lands.

The difference seems to be that Utahns have been grappling with the state control issue for several years and are therefore much more educated on the costs and benefits of the state potentially assuming ownership of most federal lands. They know, for instance, that only multiple-use lands are being considered, leaving national parks, wilderness areas and military reservations in federal hands. They also know that these multiple-use lands can generate income to offset the expenses of managing them. Neither poll addressed these issues, but they have been widely debated in the state since passage of the Transfer of Public Lands Act in 2012.

Taken individually, these polls seem to have contradictory results. But the take-away from examining both of them together is simply that the more people know about the costs and benefits of transferring multiple-use federal lands to state control, the more they approve of it.

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Statement on Supreme Court’s refusal to hear marriage case

Children are entitled to be raised by a married mother and father. Sutherland Institute is deeply disappointed that the Supreme Court has failed to correct the lawlessness of lower courts that have deprived the people of Utah and other states of their ability to protect that entitlement.

While it appears that Utah is being forced by the federal courts to recognize same-sex marriages, there are still other states whose laws the courts have not yet disrupted. We will provide whatever support we can to those states and hope the Supreme Court will reconsider this unwise action in a future case.

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Carl Graham in the Heritage Insider: The West’s Fight for Self-Government

Sutherland-Coalition-Self-Govt-Logo-200The federal government owns nearly half of all land west of Nebraska, and it is increasingly using that ownership to cut Western states off from the natural resources and tax bases they need to take care of themselves. National polls show a lack of trust in the federal government and a growing reluctance to accept its expanding power. But the one-two punch of resource ownership and the flow of federal funds gives the federal government a seemingly free hand to dictate how Western states educate their kids, manage their economies, and provide core public services. In effect, they are becoming states of dependence.

Many of these states are pushing back to restore a balance between individual and states’ rights and responsibilities on one hand versus the federal estate and federal government intrusions on the other. But this Western backlash against federal overreach could also ripple across the country and help set the tone for Americans’ future relationships with their federal overseers.

Much of the growth in federal power is being done under the aegis of cooperative federalism, where the federal government basically buys the rope and lets the states hang themselves. Many Western states would like to get rid of that rope by asking a very simple question: Why not govern ourselves? Why accept being states of dependence?

Just imagine if America could restore that proper balance and make government more accountable by bringing it closer to home; if we could have a servant instead of a master, a government that works for us, not against us. Imagine being able to decide our future; to figure out how to best educate each of our kids, how to steward our lands, and to provide for our public safety and services using local solutions that take into account local resources and local needs rather than imposed or one-size-fits-all dictates.

But increasing federal power doesn’t allow us to govern ourselves, and we can get an idea of who is most at risk by looking at who’s manning the barricades against overreaching and often counterproductive federal policies. The West is the proverbial canary in the coalmine as the federal government is able to impose more of its power and create greater dependence by controlling access to Western resources.

That’s why you see Nevada ranchers getting on their horses and riding to the district Bureau of Land Management offices to protest new grazing restrictions. It’s why ATV riders in Utah are protesting trail closures on public lands that they have used responsibly for generations. It’s why county commissioners in New Mexico are threatening to break locks—installed by federal officials—that block access to water that ranchers have used responsibly and improved since before New Mexico was even a state. And it’s why Utah certified public accountants called upon the legislature to get a better handle on the inherent risks of depending on federal funds to perform core state functions.

The primary vulnerability to federal overreach in the West is the states’ lack of control over their own resources. The primary driver for that lack of control is the simple fact that they don’t own the land those resources are on and under. Fifty percent of all land, over 600 million acres, west of the Colorado/Nebraska line is owned by the federal government, making up 91 percent of all federal lands in the nation. That’s enough land to cover every state on the Eastern Seaboard, plus Kansas, plus Texas, plus France. That’s just unfair: Western states are cut off from 50 percent of their tax base and have little say over 50 percent of their economic potential, just because they came to the Union later in our nation’s history.

Click here to read the rest of this article by Carl Graham at the Heritage Foundation’s InsiderOnline. It was also printed in the summer 2014 edition of the Insider.

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Be ‘warriors’ for social justice, Mike Lee and Arthur Brooks tell audience at Sutherland event

Sen. Mike Lee speaks at Sutherland dinner in Salt Lake City on Oct. 1, 2014. (Photo © Sutherland Institute)

Sen. Mike Lee speaks at Sutherland dinner in Salt Lake City on Oct. 1, 2014. (Photo © Sutherland Institute)

Is social justice a conservative cause? Yes, absolutely.

Sen. Mike Lee of Utah and Arthur Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute, explained why it’s not just a cause, but a moral imperative, last night at a Sutherland Institute dinner in Salt Lake City.

Brooks told the group gathered at La Jolla Groves that conservatives who want to improve social justice cannot be elitist about the type of work considered “worthy.”

“All work is blessed.”

If you believe in fighting to improve life for poor and middle-class families, you cannot believe that trimming a hedge is less valuable than managing a hedge fund, he said.

Sen. Lee said that because nearly every strategy in the “war on poverty” has failed to achieve true societal change, conservatives need to summon the courage to lead this fight with new strategies.

“Defenders of today’s status quo say that any critique of our welfare system is really just a thinly-veiled attempt to destroy the social safety net. But what we all should want – and what I certainly do want – is not to destroy the safety net, but to make it work.”

America’s complicated tax code, health care and justice system hurt working families, Sen. Lee said. “Our justice system tears apart communities and fractures families among our most marginalized communities.” Sen. Lee is a co-sponsor of the Smarter Sentencing Act, along with Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.

Lee urged supporters of conservatism to help “make poverty temporary, not merely tolerable.”

“We usually refer to the free market and civil society as ‘institutions,’” he said. “But really, they are networks – networks of people and information and opportunity. …

“Networks of opportunity formed within the free market and civil society are not threats that poor families need more protection from. They are blessings that poor families need more access to.”

Derek Monson, policy director at Sutherland Institute, pointed out that family strength and culture are intertwined with economic issues – issues that are at the heart of Sutherland’s Center for Utah’s Economy. Continue reading

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Constitution, originalism and judicial activism – Sutherland Soapbox, 9/30/14

We_The_PeopleThis post is a transcript of a 4-minute weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations.

A couple weeks ago, Utah and the country celebrated Constitution Day. September 17 was designated to commemorate the signing of the Constitution by the delegates to the Philadelphia Convention in 1787.

The day is well chosen because the genius of a written constitution is as much in the fact that it’s written as in what it says. A government constrained by an accessible set of guidelines stands a real chance of actually being limited. The fact of its being written allows conscientious citizens and officers of government to return to the document to ensure that they are keeping faith with their foundational charter. It allows critics a standard by which to measure proposed actions and policies. If the Constitution is taken seriously it allows for what John Adams called, in the Massachusetts Constitution of 1780, “a government of laws and not of men.” This way of interpreting the Constitution is widely known as “originalism,” and is the view supported by conservative Supreme Court justices such as Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.

The alternative is to allow a powerful individual or group of people to govern with no restraint but the bounds of their own wills. Unfortunately, this can occur even with a written constitution if the terms are treated not as expressions of objective standards that can be discerned from the original meaning of the words, but as empty vessels for government actors to pour their own preferred meanings into. This view is known as the “living Constitution,” which is often tied to the practice of judicial activism. Many view the Supreme Court’s left-leaning judges in this light.

When judges engage in judicial activism, they are essentially creating new law and altering the meaning of the Constitution. This is not the proper role for judges. If a change seems to be needed, the Constitution itself provides the means for making it — not by creative interpretation but by a formal amendment process, difficult enough to require deliberation and consensus but not so difficult as to create undue barriers to needed adjustment.

The even greater genius of the United States’ written constitution is that it is more concerned with structural matters than in asserting nebulous ideals for government officials to run with. The U.S. Constitution is dominated not by policy prohibitions but by structures for decision-making. Nearly the entire 1787 document lays out the responsibilities of the branches of government including crucial limitations on their powers. The Constitution does tell us how we can make decisions that affect our lives, not what all the right decisions will be. Continue reading

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Strong family culture and policy help drive Utah’s dynamic economy

Family_playing_a_board_gameUtah has heard a lot of praise lately for its economic performance, and rightly so. Utah has the nation’s 2nd lowest unemployment rate (3.6 percent), 2nd highest rate of job growth (3.5 percent or 44,700 new jobs), 3rd highest household income ($59,770), and 3rd best ratio of income inequality.

This is likely due to several factors such as Utah’s cultural work ethic – our motto is “Industry,” after all – and good economic policies enacted by Governor Gary Herbert and the Utah Legislature in the years during and after the so-called “Great Recession.” But based on demographic reports and recently published research from the National Bureau of Economic Research, it is also likely due, in no small part, to Utah’s strong family culture.

In addition to Utah’s consistently high economic rankings, the state also ranks at or near the top in most (but not all) measures of family strength and creation. For example, based on the most recent data from the Census Bureau, Utah has the nation’s largest median family size (3.66 people), youngest age at first marriage (25.9 years for men, 24 years for women), highest portion of households headed by married couples (61.4 percent), highest portion of married-couple households with children (31.5 percent), and highest fertility rate (72 per 1,000 women age 15-50).

Of course, correlation is not causation, so what connects these strong family measures to Utah’s solid economic performance? One explanation is the relative youth of the state’s population and how that drives job creation through the creation of the new businesses. Continue reading

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