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McBaine: Helping Utah families means letting the last century go

First Published      Last Updated Mar 09 2017 05:38 pm

Last week, James Green, vice chair of the Wasatch County GOP, resigned after publishing comments arguing against equal pay for men and women: "If businesses are forced to pay women the same as male earnings, that means they will have to reduce the pay for the men they employ. … Simple economics."

Green continued: "If that happens, then men will have an even more difficult time earning enough to support their families, which will mean more mothers will be forced to leave the home (where they may prefer to be) to join the workforce to make up the difference."




Green calls on private businesses, rather than government, to regulate the pay structures based on free-market forces. This argument has been the go-to for conservative politicians since 1971, when the Comprehensive Child Development Act, designed to create a high-quality, universal children-care system for all Americans, was derailed. Instead of private businesses solving what is the most significant crisis in modern family life — the lack of affordable child care — businesses have left the United States to languish as one of the few developed countries in the world that actively discriminate against mothers trying to support their families. Not seeing the financial benefits for itself, private business has left women and families out to dry.

And what about Utah specifically? Perhaps Green believes that more women in Utah "prefer" to be home here than in the rest of the United States. While Utah does have a lower labor force participation rate than the national average, the difference is a few percentage points: 73 percent of Utah mothers whose children are between the ages of 6-17 work, versus 77 percent nationally. Does Green truly believe that if their husbands were paid more, all of those women would just head on home? Does he not realize that the vast majority of those women do not have husbands bringing home consistent salaries to be so easily raised? Despite the reality that most Americans and Utahns need two salaries to allow our families to function, we still fantasize that working is a choice for women. Statistics prove the question is not whether a mother will work. The question is whether our businesses and political programs will be there for her when she does.

Green seems to think that financially squeezing women out of the workforce will result in more lucrative bread-winning for men. But here in Utah, we have already squeezed women out of the workforce by creating a culture in which women have the most occupationally segregated jobs, all of which occupy the lowest rungs of the pay scale. Specifically, 40 percent of Utah women work in two occupational groups: office and administrative support and service occupations. Both of these job groups have median wages well below the state average (while the job groups with the fewest women — engineering and construction — are significantly above the state average). Additionally, Utah has the lowest percent of women in "professional" occupations of any state in the nation, suggesting that our women are working — most out of need — but they are not in a local culture that promotes long-range career development into more financially (and emotionally) rewarding positions.

In a day and age in which technology allows male and female workers to collaborate and produce from the comfort of their homes or the local Starbucks, work with neighbors or colleagues across the world, during school hours or late into the night, Green's paradigm of "breadwinning" vs. being "in the home" is itself antiquated and harmful. Providing for our families is innovative business for both men and women, mothers and fathers. The longer our political and business leaders cling to a mid-20th-century model of domestic economics, the harder it will be for Utah families to flourish and for our businesses to compete and rise on a national stage.

Neylan McBaine is CEO of Better Days, a nonprofit dedicated to popularizing Utah women's history to inspire conversations about the future, author of "Women at Church: Magnifying LDS Women's Local Impact" and the founder of the Mormon Women Project. She also runs The Seneca Council, which provides gender workplace consulting.

 

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