June 10th is Moms’ Equal Pay Day—which means it’s time to remember that mothers still are systemically penalized throughout their careers for their choice to have children. On average, mothers earn 5–6 percent less than non-mothers—a number that climbs with each additional child they have. The motherhood penalty compounds already-astonishing pay disparities for women of color: Black moms earn 54 cents on the dollar compared to white, non-Hispanic dads, Native moms earn 48 cents, and Latina moms earn just 46 cents, according to data from the NWLC.
These wage disparities—combined with the discrimination pregnant workers often face from employers who refuse to provide reasonable accommodations—have real consequences for moms and their families. In New York City, for example, nearly 40 percent of households headed by single mothers with children under 18 live in poverty. When women are pushed out of the workforce during their prime earning years due to their caregiving duties, the economic consequences last a lifetime: women over 65 are twice as likely to as men their age to be living in poverty.
With equal pay, mothers could use the average income they are denied by discriminatory practices to pay 10 more months of rent, to buy seventy-four more weeks of groceries for their families, to pay a year of tuition at a public, four-year university, or for so much more.
In order to mitigate the effects of the motherhood penalty and help close the wage gap for working moms, we need to pass the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act. (You can read more about why we need the PWFA in our recent report, “Long Overdue.”) We also need to pass state and local laws that provide protections for working parents, such as paid family and medical leave, paid sick days, breastfeeding protections, and, of course, equal pay. (We’re getting there, state by state!) And, we need to improve access to childcare and fair and flexible scheduling, and address the maternal mortality rate and its disproportionate effect on women of color.
In New York, we have an opportunity to act right now and tell our legislators to pass the equal pay laws New York needs—including banning employers from asking for salary history—before the end of the legislative session on June 19. It’s time we set a new standard, so do it for working mothers everywhere!