The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed longstanding weaknesses in our nation’s infrastructure, especially when it comes to supporting working families. Specifically, the pandemic has highlighted just how undervalued women, especially mothers, and in particular mothers of color, are in our society.
Mothers have long faced economic inequality in the United States. Early June marked Moms’ Equal Pay Day, symbolizing how long it took moms to earn what dads earned in 2019. U.S. Census data from 2019 indicated that women working full time in the U.S. earned $0.82 for every dollar that men made in their jobs. However, mothers make just $0.70 for every dollar white, non-Hispanic fathers make. The pandemic has only intensified the problem, as mothers are being forced to choose between their jobs and their caregiving responsibilities. As the New York Times reported, a recent study in Gender, Work & Organization of heterosexual couples where both the mother and father were continuously employed and had children under 13 showed that mothers “have reduced their work hours four to five times more than fathers” during the pandemic, resulting in a 20 to 50 percent increase in the gender gap of work hours. Another study published by Syracuse University concluded that “over 80 percent of U.S. adults who weren’t working because they had to care for their children who were not in school or day care were women.”
The pay gap is far greater for mothers of color, with Black mothers earning just 50 cents for every dollar a white, non-Hispanic father makes, Native American mothers just 47 cents, and Latinx mothers a shocking 45 cents. The wider pay gap for mothers of color can be attributed to a number of factors, including systemic racism, sexism, COVID-19, and occupational segregation.
A recent study by the Center for American Progress examined the specific burdens that Black women face in the workforce. As the article points out, 84.4% Black mothers are breadwinners and “often shoulder disproportionate financial burdens due to caregiving responsibilities” but at the same time face higher unemployment rates than white women, have a harder time finding a job than white women, and lack access to good jobs—even with educational attainment— forcing them to work in lower-paying jobs. All told, the wage gap can only be explained by intersectional systemic barriers “rooted in race and gender bias.”
Through our free and confidential helpline, we’ve been hearing firsthand from mothers forced to make the impossible choice between their paycheck, and their health or caring for their loved ones. We’ve heard from mothers like Angela*, who works at a hardware distribution plant in Mississippi. Her one-year-old’s childcare center closed due to the coronavirus, and because her employer was too large to be covered by the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act, she was denied the paid family leave she needed. And Myra*, a customer service representative in Virginia who is seven months pregnant and immunocompromised. Per her doctor’s advice, she requested to work from home to avoid potential risks from the virus—but her employer said no. Virginia’s Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which would have guaranteed her the right to a reasonable accommodation like the one she requested, went into effect after Myra was denied accommodations.
Inequality is not an individual problem—it is a systemic, intersectional problem. And we need systemic, intersectional solutions to support working mothers and parents and dismantle the sexism and racism that mother of color face at work. While Congress took one step in supporting working parents and caregivers by passing the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to provide emergency paid sick time and emergency paid family leave, the laws excluded far too many workers. Furthermore, while the CARES Act allocated $3.5 billion to help support the child care industry, that amount is not nearly enough to support the parents who need care for their children or the child care providers. That’s why Congress must act to pass several crucial measures to support mothers and working parents including:
- The HEROES Act: This bill expands the FFCRA and would close the loopholes in existing law by expanding coverage to businesses with over 500 employees, small businesses who are excluded, and employees who are healthcare workers and emergency responders. Additionally, the HEROES Act would expand paid leave protections for a broader range of purposes and caregiving needs through 2021, continuing necessary benefits for many low wage workers.
- The Child Care is Essential Act: This Act would create a $50 billion Child Care Stabilization fund for child care providers, the majority of whom are women of color, to reopen safely and ensure costs such as cleaning, tuition assistance to families, training in safety and health, employee pay, and other services are covered. The child care industry needs long term structural change to ensure equity and access, so that that families can continue to provide financial stability for their families without sacrificing their loved ones’ health.
- The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA): The PWFA would require employers to provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant workers. These reasonable accommodations would allow women to stay healthy and follow doctor’s recommendations so that pregnant women will no longer have to choose between their health and the health of their baby and a paycheck.
Join us in calling on Congress to act now to support working mothers and families by:
- Telling your legislator to support the Child Care is Essential Act.
- If you are you a parent with childcare responsibilities during the pandemic, share your story with us (or post a video) to help us advocate for better child care solutions.
The pandemic has left a great deal of devastation in its path—let’s hope it also spurs a push for the comprehensive legal protections working moms, and all caregivers, need.