When United Way reported on the gender pay gap in 2019, Utah came in dead last. In the organization’s latest report, the state is second from the bottom. That’s progress, but not much.
According to United Way’s “Income Inequality in America,” men in Utah make an average of 43.57 percent more than women. Only Wyoming, with a 53.72 percent differential, is worse than Utah, Nationally, men make 25.4 percent more than their female counterparts. Other states where the gender pay gap stands out include Louisiana (39.54 percent), Alabama (34.6 percent) and Idaho (32.92 percent).
So why does Utah rank so poorly?
A 2019 study, commissioned in part by Utah’s Young Women’s Christian Association and the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, found that Utah women tend to enter industries that pay less, and industries that they believe will allow them time to do what has been called “shadow work,” like caring for children, elderly relatives or someone with a disability.
“When women are put in a spot where they feel torn between their career choices and the home life, most women will choose the home life,” said Valerie Lacarte, a postdoctoral research fellow with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research and head researcher of the 2019 study.
Utah also leads the nation with the highest percentage of women working part time, at nearly 38 percent of all employed women ages 16 and older. Those working part time make more than a third less on an hourly basis than full-time workers in similar positions, according to the report. And only a little over 40 percent of all employed Utah women are in some type of managerial or professional role — a figure slightly less than the national average.
Utah’s burgeoning technology, medical and life sciences sector, where high-paying technical positions are dominated by men, also contributes to the gender pay gap, the YWCA study said.
But it’s not all doom and gloom for Utah’s working women. More than 61 percent of Utah women participate in the workforce, placing the state 15th in the nation, according to the 2019 report. Ninety percent of Utah women live above the poverty line, more than 3 percent better than the national average, and almost 89 percent of Utah women ages 18 to 64 have health insurance, also near the best in the nation.
The states that fared the best in the recent United Way study were Vermont, with a 9.86 percent gender pay gap, followed by Hawaii (11.81 percent) and Maryland (11.9 percent).
When race is added to the pay gap equation, things get worse. Although Utah’s disparity between pay for white people and pay for minorities is higher than the national average (38.96 percent versus 26.9 percent), it is much better than some of the category’s bottom-dwellers like Mississippi and Rhode Island, with pay gaps above 50 percent, and Washington, D.C., with a race pay disparity of a whopping 91.01 percent.