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Op-ed: Utah can’t explain away its gender pay gap

By Donna McAleer

First Published Jan 31 2014 04:22 pm • Last Updated Jan 31 2014 04:22 pm

Watching President Obama’s latest State of the Union address highlighted an embarrassing paradox we have in our country and in our state.

He said, "Today, women make up half our workforce. But they still make 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. That is wrong. And in 2014, it’s an embarrassment. Women deserve equal pay for equal work."

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We Utahns are proud of our economic growth, and rightly so. Nationally we rank as the "Best State for Business and Careers" by Forbes Magazine, three years running; the Kauffman Foundation acknowledges Utah No. 1 for "Economic Dynamism"; Pollina Corporate lists Utah as the top pro-business state; and the U.S. Chamber of Enterprising States ranks Utah third in STEM job growth and business birth rate and first in high-tech business economy.

But, and here’s the embarrassing paradox, according to a recent 24/7 Wall Street article, when it comes to equal pay in the state, women are paid an average of 70 percent of what men are paid.

What’s most embarrassing is that Provo-Orem and Ogden-Clearfield rank No. 1 and No. 2 respectively as the worst-paying cities for women.

In Provo-Orem a women’s median income is 61.6 percent of men’s (men’s median income $51,692, women’s median income $31,846) making it the largest disparity of any metro area. At Ogden-Clearfield, women’s median income is 65.2 percent of men’s (men’s median income $52,184, women’s median income $34,018.)

The typical full-time Utah working woman earns $34,062 a year, compared to $48,540 for a male — a gap of $14,478 annually.

The Utah gap is 44 percent higher than the national gap of $10,061, and the fourth largest gap in the nation. With nearly 85,500 Utah households led by women, the economic impact is seismic.

The National Partnership for Women & Families reported that, as a group, full-time employed Utah women lose more than $4.3 billion — yes, billion — every year because of pay disparity.

Eliminate this financial gap and each full-time working woman in Utah could afford groceries for an additional 2.1 years, buy 3,890 more gallons of gas, pay mortgages and utilities for 10 more months, pay rent for 18 more months, or purchase family health insurance premiums for 4.1 more years.

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Think of the impact that would have on the 28.2 percent of Utah’s women-led households now living below the poverty level.

Businesses also suffer the consequences. Gender income inequity makes it harder for companies here to attract, and even harder to retain, women with the education and skills our state needs to sustain long-term economic health and growth.

While many will say the gender wage disparity has to do with personal choices and education, the gap persists when accounting for such factors.

According to the GAO, "Working mothers pay a ‘penalty’ for having children while fathers get a bonus.

"Nationally, women with children are paid 2.5 percent less than women without children, while men with children experience a boost of 2.1 percent over men without children."

With Utah women college graduation rates falling below the national average, this gap is likely to continue. Utah ranks last in the nation, with 47 percent of bachelor’s degrees earned by women. We need to encourage women to complete college as a priority and continue to demonstrate the difference of such an education over one’s lifetime.

Utah should not be a stepping stone in a woman’s career, where she stays long enough to get experience and then leaves for another state for a job where gender income inequity is less, or non-existent. Utah should be a destination where a woman’s hard work is recognized and rewarded with equal pay.

Donna McAleer is a congressional candidate in Utah’s 1st District, Army veteran, author and mother.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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