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Women in Utah have made strides during the past two decades in education and wages, but they still have a long way to go to reach parity with their male counterparts.
With new data on the well-being of women in the Beehive State, the YWCA Utah is seeking to initiate a wide-ranging discussion throughout the state aimed at developing policy initiatives to bolster women's safety, health, economic security and education.
Thursday, CEO Anne Burkholder told an audience of about 60 women that Utah's women face persistent challenges. They earn less, even when their education levels are higher, they are more likely to be poor, experience domestic violence, and are underrepresented in political leadership positions.
"These challenges must be addressed for the state as whole to survive," Burkholder said. "The information we are releasing today gives us a solid foundation to identify trends in Utah women's lives."
Burkholder's comments were underpinned by a new report based on data from the Institute for Women's Policy Research. The nonpartisan Washington, D.C.-based organization uses census data and other sources to illustrate women's social and economic status with comparisons between the state and the nation as a whole.
"Our hope is that Utah women will learn more about themselves," Burkholder said. "We want women's lives to improve."
The report, available at http://www.ywca.com, reveals a big gender wage gap in Utah. In 2012, the median income for women working full time was $33,100 compared to $48,000 for men. "On the whole, women's median annual earnings in Utah are less than those of women nationwide, while Utah men's are slightly higher than in the U.S. overall," the report states.
Women in Utah also are less likely than men to hold a graduate or professional degree, according to the report. (Utah men 12.8 percent; Utah women 7.9 percent)
From 2010 to 2012, 37.2 percent of Utah families headed by single women with children lived below the poverty line compared to 20.2 percent for single men with children living in poverty, according to the report.
"Women's higher poverty rates stem from multiple factors," the report states. "Lower lifetime earnings, family care-giving responsibilities ... as well as the fact that many do not have affordable child care and paid family and medical leave."
Colette Herrick, the president of the YWCA board of directors, said change begins with awareness.
"Here is a report we can sink our teeth into and raise awareness," she said. "We must focus on possibilities ... and make a difference."
Using hard data to engage Utahns of all stripes in a discussion of women's well-being is "a brilliant approach," said Lisa Baskin of Real Women Run, a group dedicated to getting more women into politics.
"Supply the decision-making with facts," she said. "This data is telling us the well-being of women in Utah is not what it should be."
Many of Utah's institutions take the gender gap for granted, said Pam Perlich, economist at the University of Utah's Bureau of Economic and Business Research.
The YWCA and Institute for Women's Policy Research "has put together, in one place, a collection of data people can count on as they evaluate the status of women," Perlich said. "This creates a fact-based foundation for discussions going forward."
Those discussions should reach into every community in Utah, said Burkholder, who invited all groups across the state to participate in improving women's well-being.
"If women are safe and free, healthy and educated and economically secure," she said, "it will strengthen Utah."
How Utah women compare
Income • Utah women's median annual income for full-time, year-round work is 69 percent of men's, ranking Utah as fifth biggest wage gap in the nation.
Education • Women in Utah are slightly more likely than men to have a bachelor's degree (20.5 percent compared to 20.2 percent, but they are less likely to have a graduate or professional degree (7.9 percent vs. 12.8 percent).
Poverty • Some 12.6 percent of women live in poverty in Utah, compared to 10 percent of men. Among families headed by a single woman, 37.2 percent are poor, compared to 20.2 percent of families headed by a single man.
Politics • Women register and turn out to vote in greater proportions than men, yet women hold just 16.3 percent of the seats in the Utah Legislature the sixth-lowest percentage in the nation.
Source: Institute for Women's Policy Research, YWCA Utah