Utah is the king of low-wage states, right? Large families breed scores of young workers, and that means employers have their pick of qualified people who come dirt cheap. Everyone knows that, right?
Well, not so fast.
The Utah Foundation, a research group, released a study this week that carefully examines the statistics that often get quoted in a lazy, drive-by analysis of the state. What it found were conditions just below the surface that tell a different story. Utah's wages aren't so bad. They're about at the national average.
A difference remains between wages for men and women, and that ought to be explored more deeply. But the overall picture is of a state where people make enough to live quite comfortably. But then, you probably suspected as much after looking around at all those monster homes under construction and wondering how they got there.
The brief explanation for Utah's apparent, and misleading, disparity with the rest of the nation is that the state has a lot of part-time workers. Those workers get figured in, for example, when the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that Utah's weekly wages rank 38th in the nation. The foundation report found that Utah ranks second in the nation in the percentage of part-time workers, who typically earn small salaries. This has a lot to do with the state's large youth population, many of whom hold down part-time jobs while going to school. It also reflects seasonal tourism jobs and the large number of workers enrolled in colleges and universities.
Most of all, however, it reflects a set of commonly held values among many Utahns. People here don't just talk about valuing their families, they make it a true priority. The report cites a Community Population Survey that found more than 55 percent of the women in Utah who work part time said they did so because of "other family/personal obligations." The state ranks No. 1 in the nation in that category. Nationwide, the average was 39 percent.
The report notes than only 3.72 percent of Utah women said they worked part time because of "child-care problems." That figure, the foundation said, "may suggest that some female part-time workers in Utah who choose to stay home with their children believe it is a family or personal obligation." They don't see it as a "problem" of any sort.
Overall, that reflects nicely on Utah and its people. And the truth about Utah wages (the report says they ought to rank about 26th nationally, or 95 percent of the national average), ought to get out to businesses and people considering a move here.