"We need to develop Utah solutions that accomplish two key goals," said Matthew Weinstein, an official with Voices for Utah Children. "We need to help women succeed in the workforce. And we need to help women balance work and family commitments."
If that aid is not forthcoming, the state will bypass $1.6 billion a year in earnings by women that could be reinvested into Utah's economy. But, just as importantly, failure to bring about greater parity will continue a cycle of poverty that currently ensnares more than 52,000 children, most living in households headed by low-earning women, said Weinstein and university economics student Curtis Miller.
That cycle has costly social consequences, said former Utah House Minority Leader Jennifer Seelig, D-Salt Lake City, who led with the late former House Speaker Becky Lockhart the legislature's Women in the Economy Commission.
"If we don't turn it around, we will continue to have families in poverty because 61 percent of the women who are eligible to work in utah are either working or actively looking for work. This is higher than the national average (59 percent)," Seelig said.
"There's this mythology that our women aren't working. But they are, more than the rest of the country and they're not getting paid as much," she added. "We're going to have more people, more families, in economic insecurity. We can't have that. We really need everyone engaged if we're going to be sustainable as a state and a country and we're not on that trajectory at all."
This latest study affirms her perspective.
On average, Miller determined, a woman in Utah makes 70 percent as much as a man performing the same job duties.
Nationally, the figure is 79 cents on the dollar. The difference represents the fourth biggest gap in the country.
The gap is narrowing, but ever so slowly. Utah's rate of achieving parity is the nation's second slowest (only Louisiana is worse), Miller said. So while women nationally are projected to achieve equal pay with men in 2047, equilibrium will not be reached in Utah until 2087.
Education is a key to bridging the gap, Weinstein said, noting that Utah women are at a disadvantage since so many marry young, start having families and put off getting college degrees.
As a result, he noted that women nationally who have bachelor's degrees tend to earn as much as men. But in Utah, a woman has to have a master's degree before she can hope to take home a comparable paycheck.
"We've lost ground in this area," Seelig said, citing declining college-graduation rates for women.
Although the numbers are discouraging, Seelig said she takes solace in the fact that "people are starting to take a serious look at this issue."
Besides this study and the legislative commission she helped found and lead, another group of lawmakers is looking at intergenerational poverty, and the YWCA is examining the overall well-being of women in the community.
"All of these things are interconnected," she said. "We need to prepare people to be self-sustaining, no matter what circumstances they face."
By the numbers
• 70 cents Average earnings for a Utah woman compared to every dollar paid to a Utah man
• 79 cents Average earnings for women nationally compared to men
• Utah has the fourth-largest wage gap of the 50 states
• Utah's rate of closing the wage gap is the second slowest in the country
• 2047 Year in which the wage gap nationally is expected to close completely
• 2087 Year in which Utah's wage gap is projected to close