And it gets worse.
There’s a grim reality in America: Being a mom is a greater predictor
of wage and hiring discrimination than gender — and due to structural racism, Black, Brown, Indigenous and other moms of color experience compounded
wage and hiring discrimination. The data is shocking. Latina moms earn just 46 cents, Native American moms just 50 cents and Black moms just 52 cents to a White dad’s dollar, according to the National Women’s Law Center. Moms, on average, are paid
just 75 cents to every dollar that White fathers are paid, per that same study.
In her response to President Joe Biden’s first State of the Union address, Republican Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds mentioned
the words “mom,” “parents” or “families” almost a dozen times, coming to a crescendo by saying that “parents matter.” But missing from her speech was any mention
of the care infrastructure policies that really, truly matter to parents (ones that Biden rightly lifted
up in his address).
Let’s be clear: If families really mattered to Republican leaders, then they wouldn’t be focused on banning
important books, restricting access
to reproductive healthcare and attacking
LGBTQ+ kids. Instead, they’d be focused on building the care infrastructure America needs, which would go a long way toward finally breaking through
the “maternal wall,” the barrier of bias that moms face in the workplace and our lives.
This maternal wall is holding the majority of women in America back and its extreme wage gaps hurt not only moms, women, parents and families — but also our communities, businesses and economy.
More than 85% of women become
moms by the time we’re 44, according to Pew Research, including the majority of never-married women — and, importantly, the majority of families need moms’ wages to make ends meet, according
to the Center for American Progress.
It also can’t be overlooked
that in our consumer-fueled economy, women and moms make the majority
of purchasing decisions. So, when we don’t have funds to spend at the grocery store, or to get our kids new shoes that fit their tiny growing toes, or for school supplies, or to fill our tanks with gas and more, then there are negative ripple effects through our whole economy.
If we take steps to close the wage gap by implementing solutions already at our fingertips, then our nation’s GDP would increase
by nearly 3% and women’s poverty would be cut in half, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.
To be clear, smashing through the maternal wall is entirely and eminently possible. In fact, many of the care infrastructure measures that would address
this crisis are under consideration in Congress right now and are policy priorities for the Biden administration.
Studies show that passing
care infrastructure policies that cover people of all genders would not only boost our economy and help families, but also significantly help close the wage gaps between moms and non-moms — and thus between women and men. And a recent study found that building a care infrastructure would lift
our country’s long-term real GDP growth by 10 to 15 basis points.
These care infrastructure policies include paid family/medical leave for when a new baby arrives or a serious health crisis strikes us or a close loved one — as all other industrialized nations have already done
. Access to quality, affordable child care and Pre-K, living wages for all care workers, equitable health care and maternal health care, earned sick days, the monthly child tax credit, and home- and community-based services for the elderly and people with disabilities are also integral care infrastructure policy elements.
Unsurprisingly, these policies don’t just help narrow the wage gaps, they also help
parents stay consistently in much-needed jobs and help businesses to thrive because with a care infrastructure in place, people aren’t pushed out of jobs when child care can’t be found or when a serious illness strikes or a new baby arrives. This too helps lower inflation because having consistent workforce participation helps address supply chain issues, which, in turn, helps lower inflation.
To add to the argument for immediate passage of these policies, adequate care infrastructure also helps lower family costs. Take, for instance, childcare, which is one of the consistently largest expenses for families, costing
more than rent or college in most states and 30% of the income of low-income families, according
to Child Care Aware.
Creating an affordable, accessible, quality childcare and Pre-K system would significantly lower family costs and, at the same time, bring
a large return on investment for taxpayers because children who have early learning opportunities do better in school when they’re older — and moms who can stay in the workforce need less government assistance over time.
In addition to care infrastructure policies, we also need non-discrimination policies like the Paycheck Fairness Act, which adds labor force protections against unfair pay and prohibits retaliation for sharing
salary information. This is in part because, as the majority of women are working in paid jobs, moms in particular have also been putting in a tremendous amount of unpaid, devalued and unaccounted for caregiving labor that’s worth
trillions of dollars per year. The devaluation
of this unpaid labor carries over into the lower valuation of the paid labor done by moms in the form of wage discrimination, and in particular
to paid labor in care industries.
Not surprisingly, since the care infrastructure policies boost women, moms, parents and families, help combat
systemic inequalities as well as lift
our economy, their passage is also hugely popular with Republican, Democratic and Independent voters alike. In fact, recent polls show
support a strong majority of US adults support federal funding for paid family and medical leave.
This spring we’ll begin a rhetorical courtship we’ve seen before. Both parties will tailor campaign messages toward an incredibly important bloc: moms. But we’ll need more than flowery words, empty promises or red herrings. Now our nation — and our nation’s moms — need permanent, national policy changes that support our first caregivers and push us past barriers that are holding back not just moms, but our entire country. It’s past time for Congress to update our outdated care infrastructure policies and advance equity so that our families, our businesses, our economy and our country can thrive — and so that moms can do the important work we need to do in our homes and our workplaces.