SALT LAKE CITY — Women have made progress when it comes to their numbers in Utah’s labor force participation, business ownership and political engagement.
But Utah still struggles in areas of women’s mental health, political representation of women of color and earnings, according to Valerie Lacarte, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.
In Utah, between 2015 and 2019, the percentage of women-owned businesses increased by 5.4%, according to Lacarte, the keynote speaker at the second annual Utah Women’s Policy Conference organized by YWCA Utah Thursday morning.
“Sometimes women start businesses to get more time flexibility, because the workplace is too rigid in terms of schedules,” she said. “It’s actually a way to accommodate their work life.”
Nevertheless, just 30.3% of Utah women owned their own business, compared to the national average of 35.8%.
Lacarte said the increase might also have to do with the possibility that women are being pushed out of the labor market altogether.
“They decide, OK, I’m going to start a business” she said. “Amongst minorities, the percentage of newly created businesses is even higher.”
Lacarte said she’s seen a 2.7% increase in Utah women’s participation in the labor force in the last four years, where Utah now ranks 15th in the nation. Additionally, 38% of Utah women work part time, a higher rate than 28% of the national average.
Utah women’s median annual earnings for full-time, year-round workers is $36,300 — nearly $3,700 below the national average — and a dip from the 2015 Utah average of $36,827, Larcarte said.
She dispelled the assumption that Utah women who work part time earn half their salary. Those women, she said, make an average of $10,000 annually.
Currently, Utah women represent 61.4% of the labor force, compared to the national average of 58.2%, according to the report. However, over the last four years, Utah women’s median annual earnings for full-time, year-round workers have decreased.
The ratio of women’s to men’s earnings has also decreased, and Utah women currently make 70 cents for every dollar a man makes, 10 cents behind the national average, she said.
Lacarte found it concerning that Utah nationally ranks dead last when it comes to its wide gender wage gap.
Despite the disparity, she said Utah women are less likely to live below the poverty line. The 2019 report stated 90% of Utah women live above the poverty line.
Additionally, Lacarte presented findings that largely focused on racial and ethnic disparities that affect Utah women.
Though women of color participate in the workforce at higher rates than white women, their earnings widely differed depending on their race or ethnicity.
In Utah, a white woman earns 68.2% of what a white man earns. Hispanic women faired the lowest among minority groups at 47.3%, earning less than half of what white men earn. Women who identify as Asian or Pacific Islander make 61.5% and Native American women earn 54.5% of what white males earn, according to the 2019 report.
Larcarte found “significant” progress in high voter registration and participation in Utah women than the national average. She said the high participation might be due to the current “political moment,” that we’re living.
Although Utah women’s representation in the Utah Legislature has increased, “women of color remain far less represented among elected officials,” according to the 2019 report.
Researchers found that the average number of days per month in which women reported their mental health was “not good” was found to be higher than the national average. Suicide rates in Utah women was also higher.
State trends regarding the rate of violence against women and women’s physical well-being are areas, she said, that are still unclear, due to the lack of data available.
Erin Jemison, director of public policy at YWCA Utah, said “eliminating racism, empowering women” are part of the organization’s longstanding mission.
“Each year for this conference, we choose a few issues that cross over those two areas,” she said.
Jemison expected about 140 people to attend the two-day conference primarily made up of lawmakers, government agencies and community members, and wants to make sure that “different perspectives that are often hidden are brought to life” for policymakers.