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Economy and sociology experts discuss Utah's gender wage gap with state senator

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah women are cornered into fewer jobs than women nationally, which contributes to the state's wide gender wage gap, according to a panel gathered to discuss pay disparity in the Beehive State.

According to American Association of University Women, Utah ranks 50th in the nation for its gender wage gap, where women earn 70 cents to every dollar a man makes in the state, whereas nationally women earn 80 cents. The study also included Washington, D.C., and Utah is ahead of Louisiana, which ranked 51st in the nation.

A group of women discussed the complex issue Monday at the U's Hinckley Institute of Politics panel discussion.

"Utah women tend to be more crowded into fewer occupations than nationally," said Günseli Berik, an economics professor at the University of Utah. "And those are clerical, sales and teaching. The wage gaps in these occupations are greater than they are nationally."

The combination contributes to Utah's wider wage gap, she explained.

For example, full-time, year-round female teachers in Utah earn on average 71 percent of what male teachers earn, whereas nationally it is 81 percent.

Those numbers, as well as the state and nation's gender wage gap statistics, only include year-round and full-time workers, Berik pointed out.

Another factor in the state's disparity is the gender gap in education, she said. Utah women are less likely to obtain a bachelor's degree, according to Berik.

More than 70 people attend a Hinkley Institute of Politics panel discussing Utah's gender wage gap at the University of Utah on Monday, March 25, 2019.
More than 70 people attend a Hinkley Institute of Politics panel discussing Utah's gender wage gap at the University of Utah on Monday, March 25, 2019.
Lauren Bennett, Deseret News

More than 70 people attended the event, which was part of the institute's "Pizza and Politics" series and co-sponsored by the Women's Resource Center and the Women's Enrollment Initiative.

This is obviously an issue of justice, but it's also an economic issue, said panelist Nilufer Cagatay, co-director of the University of Utah's Economics Department.

Gender wage gaps contribute to poverty, she said, and effect the growth rates an economy can achieve.

Childcare contributes to the issue as well, she explained.

"Somebody has to have children," she quipped. Instead of forcing mothers to bear the cost alone, society should help bear the economic burden of children, she said.

Mothers in the workforce are punished for having children whereas fathers are rewarded, she noted.

It's not all about white women either, panelist Claudia Geist, U. gender studies and sociology associate professor, pointed out.

Latina women make 53 percent of what white men make, African-American make 61 percent and Asian women make 85 percent, although Geist noted some subgroups of Asian women, like Pacific Islander's, make less.

The statistic about Latina women hit home for panelist Sen. Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City, who said she's experienced it firsthand.

"I think I can say I've faced that gap and it's real," she said. "There's nothing worse than you learning that your co-worker (who does less than you do) is making more than you do."

The reality is many women feel discouraged when they've accomplished great things but still face the disparity, Escamilla said.

"I want to have that conversation because it's uncomfortable for some people, and I've learned there's a lot of allies in the male side," she said.

Jack Markman, sophomore studying economics, was one such ally in the audience.

"Because we're all human, right," he explained when asked why he thought this issue was important. "I think it's a topic that isn't discussed particularly in this state nearly enough considering the imbalance in gender representation we have in legislature, in markets, in business and politics, those sort of things," he said.

Escamilla also said there isn't one thing that will solve this problem, but rather it will be "one step at a time."

"We're going to keep on fighting this," she said. "It's not about blame anymore, it's more about focusing on moving forward."

Both Cagatay and Escamilla said they are working on separate studies about the state's gender wage gap. Cagatay's study focuses on answering why the gap in Utah is so large, and Escamilla's study examines the public sector's wage gap.

Geist said she wants women to fight for equality in all areas of their lives as well.

"I just want people to feel empowered … to demand equality not just in the workplace … but also at home," she said.

Utah's low wage gap ranking is what sparked the decision to hold the panel, according to Katie Roghaar.

"I think bringing this conversation to light is really important," said Roghaar, a master's of social work student who helped organize the event.

Roghaar said she wants policymakers to know this is an issue.

"We want to be able to stay in Utah, so pay us the same," she said.

Aubrie Strasters, a junior studying political science, said she wasn't surprised to find out the gender wage gap was more extreme in Utah than overall in the U.S.

"The culture here is very male dominated and has been for a very long time, which is unfortunate, but it can be improved," she said. "It's a fixable problem, it's just we got to pay women for the work they're actually doing."

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly spelled Hinckley Institute of Politics as Hinkley.