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Report indicates Utah has fourth largest gender wage gap in the country

Posted at 9:27 PM, Jan 23, 2015

SALT LAKE CITY -- It could be more than 70 years before women in Utah earn as much as men.

According to a new study, Utah has the fourth largest gender wage gap in the country.

"If our wage gap was only as bad as the nation's as a whole, the mathematical difference is $1.6 billion, with a B, that would be added to Utah's economy. It's a huge number," said Matthew Weinstein, who co-authored the report.

His non-profit, Voices for Utah Children, worked with economics student Curtis Miller from the University of Utah to examine the difference between the earnings of Utah men and women.

They found that in Utah, women earn 70¢ for every dollar men earn. In comparison, the national average in 2013 was 79.2¢.

One of the driving factors of this statistic is education, according to Weinstein. Compared to 32.7% of women nationally, 30.3% of women in Utah sought a bachelor's degree or more. When it came to seeking advanced degrees, 8% of women did so in Utah, less than the 11.9% of women who did so nationally.

"We're not doing enough to help women finish their degrees after they have kids and encouraging them to do that," Weinstein said. "There are things the legislature can do to help with that."

In 2014, lawmakers took a big step toward addressing the issues by establishing a "Women in the Economy Commission."

"We're number 47 in the nation; It's embarrassing," said Sen. Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City.

Escamilla is serving on the commission this year. She believes the public will likely see more programs focusing on women and their needs in the workplace, following the upcoming legislative session.

"As a mom, I completely relate," she said. "It's so hard to find adequate, quality care. And then it's so expensive, and for many of these women that are in transition process, you know, they're young, they're barely in school, they're making decisions on whether they continue school or pay daycare that they'll never be able to afford."

Aside from education, another recommendation from Weinstein and Miller is to boost the take-home pay for lower-income Utahns. Data shows that women are more likely to work in low wage jobs, so they believe women's earnings would respond to a move like that.

While the trend, historically, has shown a wage gap in the workplace, Escamilla believes women in Utah are working harder than ever to tighten it.

"There are trends coming that you didn't see before," Escamilla said. "I mean, the conversation was not the same when I started in the session seven years ago, for example."