Holly Richardson: The stats on the well-being of women in Utah

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Zions Bank is among the Utah companies committed to looking at its pay structures and is making changes for equitable pay for women within the company's workforce.

If you were to take a guess at the percentage of Utah women in the workplace, what would you say? 25 percent? 35 percent? Would it surprise you to learn that 59.8 percent of all women in Utah are in the paid workforce? That number is higher than the national average.

That was just one of the statistics Chandra Childers, a senior research scientist from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research presented at the Utah Women’s Policy Conference on Thursday, speaking on “The Well-Being of Women in Utah in 2018.”

Of the 60 percent of Utah women in the labor force, more than one-third are employed part-time, while the national average is just over one in four. The percent of all employed women in managerial or professional occupations is just over 37 percent, making Utah 46th out of 50 in the nation.

The wage gap between men and women remains unchanged, with women earning 70 cents for every dollar a man makes, making us dead-last in the nation. Broken down by race, all women earn less than white men, but also women within each racial group earn less than men in the same group, with Hispanic women in Utah earning the least of all.

The gender wage gap is more complex, of course, than just taking the average wage. At least 50 percent of the wage gap can be explained by occupation. Women more often work in lower wage jobs, may not advocate for raises for themselves in the same way that many men do, and the so-called “motherhood penalty.”

However, those factors can’t explain away the entire gap, nor can it explain research quoted by Susan Madsen that shows that in Utah, “at every educational level, men earn more than women who have achieved a higher level of education: men with a high school diploma earn more than women with an associate’s degree, men with a bachelor’s earn more than women with a graduate degree, and so forth.”

In Utah, almost one-half of Utah women age 65 and older get 80 percent or more of their income from Social Security. Two out of three get half of their income from Social Security, while a full third rely completely on Social Security for their income.

One very concerning number is the upward trend in Utah of women dying by suicide. The national average is 6.2 per 100,000 and in Utah, the rate is 10.1 per 100,000. That’s about 150 Utah women who are dying at their own hand each year — 150 too many.

Utah women are making progress in owning their own businesses, with the rates climbing from 25 percent in the 2015 report to more than 30 percent in the 2018 report. However, women who own their own businesses also have less access to capital, fewer intellectual property rights and see revenues notably lower than male-owned businesses.

Utah women are slightly ahead of men statewide and nationally and of other women nationally in attaining associate’s and bachelor’s degrees, but they also obtain fewer of the graduate and professional degrees. As noted above, those degrees often do not translate into the level of wages as men with equivalent degrees.

These points of data about women in Utah stand next to some other data points that have been in the news this week. First is the news that women in Utah hold sexist biases against other women — more, in fact, than Utah men. Those results showed up in a study by economists from the University of Chicago, Northwestern University and the National University of Singapore that shows Utah to be the second most sexist state in the nation. Next, a new survey from WalletHub ranks Utah as the worst state for women’s equality looking at wage gap, education, health care, and political representation.

Instead of a far-too-common knee-jerk reaction to dismiss these stats because they don’t fit a particular worldview, I would hope that business leaders, policy makers and members of our communities take these data about Utah women seriously. They are a great starting point for beginning or continuing discussions about access to childcare, education, including Pre-K, mental health, especially around maternal mental health and trauma-induced mental health struggles, equalizing access to business capital, shrinking the wage gap, affordable housing and many of the other issues that that Utah women and families deal with.

(Photo Courtesy Holly Richardson)

Holly Richardson, a regular Salt Lake Tribune contributor, is an advocate for looking at and addressing the needs in front of us and not pretending the stats we have are wrong.