Building an Economy that Works for Everyone

Breaking Through the Maternal Wall: The Time is Now

EOI Board Member, Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner

Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, EOI Board Member and Executive Director of MomsRising

It’s time.  It’s time to talk about motherhood, and our changing nation, front and center.  It’s time to talk about the fact that 81% of women in America have children by the time they’re forty-four years old, yet too often the adverse economic impact of motherhood is hidden and ignored.

It’s time to talk about the fact that our labor force is now 50% women for the first time in history, that three-quarters of moms are now in the labor force (and half are primary breadwinners for their families), and yet our public policies haven’t caught up with what modern women need now.

After all, when women and moms succeed, our nation–including our national economy– succeed.

But the playing field on which success can happen isn’t level.

Here’s a show stopper: Motherhood is now a greater predictor of inequality than gender in the United States of America.

Too often mothers in the workplace have to hide the fact that they have children, tip over the pictures in offices and not talk about their families in order to be taken seriously.

This isn’t simply paranoia. Mothers experience rampant wage and hiring discrimination. Studies have found that even when people have identical resumes, education and job experiences, mothers are much less likely to be hired than non-mothers and are offered significantly lower starting salaries. Dads, on the other hand, are offered more.

It’s no accident that fewer than 5 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are women; that women comprise only 18 percent of Congress; and that of the last six Supreme Court nominees all the men had children while none of the women did.

All of this is happening in 2014.

A Maternal Wall is standing in the way of most women ever entering a room with a glass ceiling. Here’s what that Maternal Wall looks like in raw numbers for women in the labor force: While most women without children make 90 cents to a man’s dollar, mothers make only 73 cents, single mothers make about 60 cents and mothers of color earn as little as 54 cents to a man’s dollar.

There are rippling economic repercussions to this wage discrimination, particularly because women make three-quarters of purchasing decisions in our consumer-fueled economy.  And when women don’t get paid fairly, then they have less money to spend. This hurts children. This hurts our economy. This hurts us all.

The domino effect is in full force here. Many moms are working full-time, playing by the rules, and still struggling to make ends meet and put food on the table. This leads to the fact that 1 in 5 children in our nation are experiencing food scarcity due to family economic limitations; as well as to the fact that a full quarter of young families in our nation are living in poverty.

Adding further challenge is that the cost of raising children is higher than most people imagine. It now costs $200,000 to raise a child from birth to age 18, not including college.  Childcare now costs more than college in most states in our nation.

Despite how women and moms are often portrayed on television, only 9 percent of all women in the labor force earn $75,000 or more annually — and it is mainly in those relatively rare highly paid jobs that people are likely to have access to workplace policies like sick days and family leave.  On the other hand 37 percent of women earn between $30,000 and $74,999 annually, and 54 percent earn less than $30,000 annually.  In other words, there are vastly more women in low wage positions than in high.

The domino effect of unfair pay must be taken seriously. Our entire economy — which for better or worse is now built on consumer spending – suffers when women don’t have adequate funds in their pockets to spend.

It’s time to bring our public policies up-to-date with what women, our nation and our national economy, need now.

Fortunately win-win solutions are at our fingertips.  Studies show that many countries with family economic security policies in place–like access to paid family leave (maternity/paternity leave), affordable childcare, and earned sick days—have lower wage gaps between women and men that we do in the U.S.

In fact the U.S. is out of step with norms in the rest of the world.

  • Over 177 countries have some form of paid family and medical leave so that new moms and infants can recover and get established, while the U.S. doesn’t have that policy in place at the national level. Only 12% of new parents can cobble together some form of paid leave after a new baby arrives in the U.S.
  • Over 160 countries have some form of guaranteed minimum number of earned sick days, but the U.S. isn’t one of them.  In fact, 80% of low wage workers in the U.S. don’t have access to a single paid sick day.
  • Many countries have made high quality childcare affordable and accessible while the U.S. lags behind with childcare now costing more than college.
  • The minimum wage is outdated and hasn’t kept pace with inflation and the majority of minimum wage earners are women. In some states, tipped-workers, the majority of whom are women (many of whom are moms) earn a jaw-droppingly low $2.13 per hour.

Investments in policies and programs that allow women, families, and mothers to thrive have been shown to have high returns as children grow, to save taxpayers money in the long run, as well as to give a boost to businesses and our economy, and to help lower the wage gaps between women and men.  For instance, in states with paid family leave, a recent study found that women who take paid leave are 40% less likely to need or receive food stamps in the year following a child’s birth when compared to those who do not take any leave. Yet too few people have access to these workplace policies.

It’s a win-win-win-win.

Momentum is growing for passage of these policies across the nation as cities and states like Seattle, New York City, and Connecticut pass paid sick days; and as Rhode Island, California, and Washington pass paid family leave. In Congress, the FAMILY Act was recently introduced which would provide access to paid family leave (maternity paternity leave); the Strong Start for America’s Children Act, which would expand access to affordable childcare is moving forward; and the Healthy Families Act, which covers paid sick days is under consideration.

Moms across the nation are realizing their political power and mobilizing.  The fight is on to catch our public policies up with what modern women, and our modern economy, need.

It’s time.

Read the original article as part of the recent Shriver Report

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