This Mother’s Day is unlike any other. Moms have long been an economic force fueling our economy, a health care force saving lives, a caregiving force lifting families and everyday superheroes; and now moms are disproportionately on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The data is in and the pandemic is having an outsized impact on women and moms, with women of color experiencing compounded harms due to structural racism.
The state of affairs for moms right now is grim; 86 percent of women in the U.S. become moms by the time they are 44 years old; women held three in five of the jobs that have been lost due to the coronavirus pandemic; women make up 73 percent of health care workers infected by coronavirus. We hold the majority of jobs deemed essential, including 77 percent of health care jobs, as well as the majority of critical retail positions, including grocery store employees. Women of color are overrepresented in essential work positions and also in fatalities from COVID-19, which increases the harm caused by the pandemic in communities of color.
Women and moms were hanging on by a thread before the pandemic. Why? Because of outdated policies and discrimination. Going into the pandemic, we were the only industrialized country without paid family and medical leave. Seven in 10 low-wage workers — nearly three-quarters of whom are women and many of whom are moms — couldn’t earn even a single paid sick day.
Now the thread is unraveling altogether. Even in this pandemic, one in four essential health care workers don’t have access to any paid sick days. The first relief package included partial paid leave and sick days, but outrageously exempted 106 million workers, with women and workers of color the most likely to be left out. We need the PAID Leave Act yesterday.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Many other countries have policies that lift moms, dads, families, businesses and the economy alike: universal paid family and medical leave, access to affordable, high quality childcare, health care for all, paid sick days and fair pay measures. We can and must too, and the next COVID-19 response bill is where it needs to happen.
Moms simply can’t wait. This moment is showing how the cracks in our national structures relating to work, life and parenting are, in fact, giant catastrophes we cannot ignore.
Take what’s happening in child care. Due to chronic underfunding, half of child care centers may not be able to reopen after the stay-at-home orders are lifted. This is a simmering national catastrophe because parents need safe enriching places for children to be so they can go back to work, and children need safe, enriching early learning opportunities so they can thrive. Child care work is essential work. Recovery is impossible unless we put significant resources into our child care system in the next relief package so parents can work and child care workers get the wages they deserve.
Child care workers aren’t the only undervalued essential workers. COVID-19 is making clear exactly what type of work is really essential, especially when disaster strikes: childcare, education, caregiving, harvesting, grocery, delivery, domestic and health care work. The list goes on and all these jobs are woefully underpaid, often without crucial benefits. Immediate passage of the components in the Essential Workers Bill of Rights must be a priority.
It’s not too late for fixes so we come out of this pandemic stronger.
Let’s start by considering what’s happening with the unpaid labor of women during the pandemic as an indicator of the depth of discrimination moms face and policy changes needed. With many schools out and child care centers closed, more responsibilities are falling on the shoulders of many moms, even as many dads are doing more than their fathers did. Moms are highly aware of what is happening and it is being talked about in now-viral articles and social media posts.
The bottom line is women’s unpaid labor puts a tremendous amount of money into our economy, to the tune of $11 trillion. But too often unpaid work is invisible and so deeply disrespected that it exacerbates the discrimination seen in the gender pay gap, which persists and hurts us all. Right now, moms of all races on average are paid just 71 cents to a dad’s dollar, with moms of color experiencing increased wage gaps due to structural racism: Latina moms earn just 46 cents and black moms earn just 54 cents to a white man’s dollar. It’s as shameful as it is shocking.
This can be fixed. Studies show the wage gap narrows when there is national paid family leave and sick days, affordable child care, health care for all, and other universal economic security measures — all of which are emergency needs in the pandemic. Women and moms must be paid fairly, our outdated policies must be updated and those who are essential workers must also get hazard pay — or better yet, hazard pay and a higher minimum wage, now and always.
For Mother’s Day, every member of Congress must urgently update our policies by advancing access to affordable, high-quality child care, health care for all, paid sick days for everyone, universal paid family and medical leave, fair and humane treatment of all immigrant families, decarceration of vulnerable people so loved ones won’t be lost, expanded unemployment insurance, fair pay and protections for essential workers.
This isn’t solely about moms — it’s about lifting everyone. When women and moms are economically successful, so are people of all genders and so is our economy. If women received pay parity, it would cut poverty in half for women and families, add $512.6 billion to our national economy and increase our gross domestic product by at least 3 percent.
Even as moms are everyday superheroes, we cannot solve the crisis we all face on our own. As we rebuild our economy, it is imperative policy makers keep them in mind. There’s no time to waste.
Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner is executive director and co-founder of MomsRising.org, an online and on-the-ground organization of more than one million mothers and their families. She is the author of "Keep Marching: How Every Woman Can Take Action and Change Our World."