Report: More Utah women are voting and working outside home — but progress varies for women of color

More women in Utah are working outside the home, are covered by health insurance and are voting, compared to previous years.

Those factors vary, though, when you look at women of color, according to a report released Thursday at the Utah Women’s Policy Conference, which continues Friday at the JADEN Event Center in Salt Lake City.

The report, “The well-being of women in Utah in 2019,” updates a 2015 look at how women in Utah fare on economic, health and political issues.

Slightly more than 61% of Utah women age 16 or older participate in the labor force, the new report said, which is a small increase from 2015 and higher than the current national rate of 58.2%.

Utah still has the highest percentage of women who are working part time in the country, at 37.5% compared to the national level of 27.8%. Just 18% of Utah men work part time, said Valerie Lacarte, a postdoctoral research fellow with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

There’s been progress by Utah women in business ownership, poverty rates and political engagement, Lacarte said. But there’s more work to be done to improve the gender-race earnings gap, psychological health and political representation of women of color, she added.

It’s not possible to address all the issues that Utah women face at the two-day conference where the report was released, said Erin Jemison, director of public policy at the YWCA Utah. But the event provides an opportunity for people to learn more and have discussions about these topics, she said.

“Our enduring belief is that better lives for women lead to better lives for families, communities and societies,” added Anne Burkholder, CEO of YWCA Utah.

(Courtesy of Madeline Gardner, YWCA Utah) Valeria Lacarte speaks Thursday at the Utah Women's Policy Conference in Salt Lake City about ways life for women in Utah has improved and not improved.

The second annual conference focuses on three issues: the crisis of missing and murdered indigenous women; the potential positive impacts of tax reform for Utah women and families; and access to comprehensive healthcare for all Utah women, girls and families.

“These issues are not simple. They’re complex. If they were simple, they would’ve been solved by now,” Jemison said.

More women in Utah now own businesses, are in managerial and professional positions, live above the poverty line and have bachelor’s degrees, the new report said.

But disparities remain. White women make up 92.9% of the women-owned businesses. And 90.6% of white women live above poverty compared to 69.3% of Native American and 69.5% of black women.

A higher percentage of women of color work than white women in Utah, but they earn less. The biggest gap is between Hispanic women, who earn a median $26,889 as full-time workers, and white women, at $38,782.

Nationally, women make 80% of what men earn. In Utah, the ratio is 69.8%, and even lower for Hispanic women at 47.3%.

(Courtesy of Madeline Gardner, YWCA Utah) Rep. Angela Romero speaks Thursday at the Utah Women's Policy Conference in Salt Lake City about the crisis of missing and murdered indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people.

Political participation is “where we found the most progress,” Lacarte said, with numbers above the national rates. Voter registration increased from 60.4% to 68.4%, while the number of women who voted increased from 45.4% to 59.8%.

Women’s representation in the Utah Legislature also reached a record high in 2019, although gains were limited to the House of Representatives,” the report states.

Utah has six female senators and 19 female representatives, but “women of color remain far less represented among elected officials, relative to their share of the population, than white women,” according to the report.

Women in Utah are more likely to have health insurance coverage than in previous years, increasing from 83.0% to 88.7%. White women have the highest coverage, at 92.3%, while Native American women have the lowest, at 64.0%.

“Unfortunately, the downward trend regarding poor mental health and suicide among Utah women continues,” the report said. The suicide rate increased from 9.1 to 10.6 per 100,000 women, which is higher than the national rate of 6.3.

A study released earlier this year ranked Utah 29th in terms of living standards for women. Utah has one of the largest gender wage gaps in the country. And another study said that Utah is the second-most sexist state in the nation.

On Friday, the YWCA Utah will award Rep. Lowry Snow, R-Santa Clara, as its public official of the year, recognizing his work to support Utah women and girls. Lowry worked to make strangulation a felony in 2017, create a new protective order for sexual assault victims in 2019 and end life without parole sentences for juveniles.

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

Becky Jacobs is a Report for America corps member and writes about the status of women in Utah for The Salt Lake Tribune. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today.