COVID has decimated women’s careers — we need a Marshall Plan for Moms, now
Each day, about 45 million women in this country show up to a job where they regularly work overtime, are paid nothing, and get no time off. Their job title is mother. It’s time to compensate them for their labor.
In January, President-elect Biden will announce his priorities for his first 100 days. Among those priorities should be the creation of a task force dedicated to implementing a Marshall Plan for Moms—one that includes a monthly, means-tested $2,400 monthly payment to the women who are the bedrock of our economy and our society.
The taskforce should be led by, as my friend Melinda Gates suggested last week, a caregiving czar. And alongside that $2,400 check should be all the policies— parental leave, affordable childcare, pay equity—that we know are long overdue.
Women’s labor — specifically the labor of our mothers — has always been undervalued in the United States. But in the last year, we’ve confirmed that, in the eyes of policy makers, their labor has no economic value whatsoever — that it’s worth exactly zero dollars. Since March, our mothers have been working simultaneously as teachers and counselors and cleaners and nurses and nannies and chefs and tech support and the list goes on and on and on. Countless millions of women have been forced to cut their working hours, scale back their careers, or leave the workforce entirely in order to be full-time caregivers. It’s true that not all caregivers are women, but the vast majority are.
I’ve experienced this firsthand. As I’ve worked to ensure the young women in our coding programs at Girls Who Code don’t slip through the cracks during this pandemic, a crisis has been playing out in my own living room. Every morning, I log my son onto Zoom-school and see other women helping their own toddlers find the mute button. Every day, I log onto video calls and see exhausted moms with infants in their laps, or I get a call from a panicked mom — for instance, in recent weeks, about how to care for her daughter after local schools gave parents only a few hours’ notice of another maddening and confusing closure.
Every woman in America is familiar with these scenes. But are our leaders? Are our legislators? Maybe they’re familiar, but are they really paying attention? More to the point: do they even care? Judging from the near total lack of government support provided to women and moms during the Covid-19 crisis, the answer seems to be a resounding “no.”
When policymakers budget for schools to reopen, they factor in HVAC systems and masks and sanitizer and extra nurses and all the things we rightfully need to keep our kids and teachers and staff safe. When they budget for schools to close, however, there is no accounting for the impact on moms — the family wages lost, the months of career advancement forgone, the barriers to reentering the workforce after women have been forced to leave it.
To be clear, a Marshall Plan for Moms will not solve the deeply rooted norms that make women our default caregivers in the first place. The battle against those norms — against our hugely damaging structural inequities — doesn’t end with a monthly stipend from the federal government. What might end, or at least begin to abate, is the gross disregard for the value of mothers’ unpaid, unseen, unappreciated labor.
A Marshall Plan for Moms will stimulate the economy. It will give women the support they need so they can — eventually — get back to work. And it will send a hugely important signal to little girls and young women across the country: that our society values the contributions of women, and that their careers, dreams, and lives will not be taken for granted.
Reshma Saujani is founder and CEO of Girls Who Code.