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SALT LAKE CITY — While women in Utah have made significant gains in the workplace over the years, they still have a long way to go to close the wage gap, a new report reveals.
In conjunction with national Equal Pay Day on Tuesday, the National Partnership for Women & Families released data detailing the size of the gender wage gap and its negative impacts on the spending power of Utah women.
In the Beehive State, the median yearly pay for women who hold full-time, year-round jobs is $36,060 compared to the $50,741 median annual pay for a man who similarly holds a full-time, year-round career, the report stated. The analysis indicates women in Utah are paid 71 cents for every dollar paid to men — an annual pay disparity of $14,681, explained Sarah Fleisch Fink, director of workplace policy and senior counsel for the National Partnership for Women & Families, a nonproft advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C., that conducted the study using U.S. Census Bureau data.
Utah had the fourth-highest wage gap nationally, the report stated, trailing Louisiana, West Virginia and Wyoming. New York has the smallest gap at 11 cents, while Wyoming has the largest at 36 cents, she said.
"We know the gaps in Utah are significant, but Utah is not alone," Fleisch Fink said. "Every single state in the country and the District of Columbia has gaps. The gaps persist no matter where one lives."
She noted that the wage gap was even larger for women of color, with full-time employed African-American women paid 52 cents, Latinas paid 47 cents and Asian women paid 69 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men.
On average, Utah women employed full-time lose a total of more than $7.3 billion annually due to the wage gap, she said.
"In Utah, if the wage gap was eliminated, a woman could afford over two additional years of child care," Fleisch Fink said. "That's pretty significant when you're talking about someone's day-to-day expenses and household budget."
The data also showed that if the pay gap was closed, a woman could afford nearly two years' worth of food, or more than 10 months of mortgage and utilities payments or nearly 16 more months of rent, she said.
Some of the pay disparity is attributable to educational attainment and workplace experience, she said, but approximately 38 percent is due to discrimination.
"That's something we have to work on solving and work on eliminating if we ever want to see the wage gap closed," Fleisch Fink said.
Nationally, women employed full time are paid 80 cents for every dollar paid to men, the data showed, with black women earning 63 cents and Latina women just 54 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men. The report stated that white, non-Hispanic women make 75 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men, while Asian women earn 85 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men, although some ethnic subgroups of Asian women fare much worse.
Mothers with full-time, year-round jobs earned 70 cents for every dollar paid to fathers, the data showed.
"It's definitely disappointing and concerning to see, but we know Utah struggles with (pay equity)," said Carrie Mayne, senior economist for the Utah Department of Workforce Services. "There still is likely a discriminatory factor playing into the wage differences between the genders."
Mayne noted that some critics have previously argued that the wage gap wasn't important because women weren't breadwinners, but the reported indicated that dynamic has changed dramatically. The study showed that nationwide, mothers are breadwinners in half of families with children under 18 years old.
"Women are the primarly breadwinners in many households," Mayne said. "These are women who are paying the bills, the mortgages and buying the food for their families. It's imperative that they're earning a fair wage and getting the returns (from) their educational skills and experience that they bring to the labor market."
This week, Congress is expected to consider legislation such as the Paycheck Fairness Act and other measures aimed at leveling the workplace playing field for women. Creating a legal framework for nondiscrimination and pay equity going forward should be a key priority for lawmakers and employers alike, said Sara Jones, chief operating officer of the Women Tech Council — a Utah-based nonprofit organization that provides mentoring, visibility and networking for women in technology fields.
A practicing attorney early in her career, Jones said her firm had uniform rules in place that dictated what employees would be paid each year, including raises and bonuses.
"Everything was very transparent," she explained. "I knew what everybody else (at) my level was getting paid."
She said employers would be better served if they created policies that ensured equitable compensation for all their employees, regardless of gender. She also said women are often less educated about salary negotiation and frequently end up settling for less than they are legitimately worth.
"They sell themselves short. They downplay their experience. They downplay their value, and when it comes to negotiating the hard dollars, there is a big question mark because they don't know what to ask for," Jones said. "They tend to ask for less than they're worth."
She noted that the psychology for pay negotiation is similar no matter what type of job — staff level or executive. Women should educate themselves on what the market is for their type of job to put themselves in the best position to negotiate the pay they deserve.
"The more informed women are in what the market is paying, then the market will start to demand equal pay," Jones said. "Hopefully, we're seeing that women are a valued talent source in any industry and if we want to keep them, we need to pay them what they are worth."