As the Biden Administration gets to work on its “Build Back Better” plan to revive the economy, Girls Who Code founder and CEO Reshma Saujani is offering up a radical idea on how to do it.
“Mothers should be considered essential workers,” Saujani told Know Your Value. She’s calling on the Biden administration to issue direct payments of $2,400 a month to mothers — compensating them for their unseen, unpaid labor — within its first 100 days.
“There's no way that we’re going to get back all the losses that we have made in terms of the amount of women who have stepped out of their careers, that have not raised their hand for that promotion, that have had to go on food stamps or move in with their parents,” Saujani said. “We're never going to get back [to where we were] unless we start standing up for ourselves [and] start pushing for an economic recovery that puts us at the center.”
Saujani’s “Marshall Plan for Moms” garnered attention recently when Girls Who Code ran a full-page ad in The New York Times as a letter addressed to President Biden and signed by 50 high-profile women activists and creatives, including the leaders of the Womens’ March and the Me Too movement and actresses Eva Longoria, Gabrielle Union, Connie Britton, Julianne Moore and Amy Schumer.
“Moms are the bedrock of society. And we’re tired of working for free,” Saujani’s online petition reads. “It’s time to put a dollar figure on our labor.” The petition has some 7,000 signatures according to Saujani.
The “Marshall Plan for Moms” is named after the WWII-era financial commitment made by the U.S. to aid in rebuilding Western European nations. Saujani’s proposal also calls for passing policies around family leave, increased funding for childcare and pay equity.
“The minute schools closed, every mother became a nanny, tech support, cook,” Saujani said. “We have a crisis right now that is overwhelmingly affecting mothers who are being pushed out of the labor force.”
Since the start of the Covid-19 crisis, women have borne the brunt of the economic fallout. Research shows that women have lost a net of 5.4 million jobs during the recession, which is nearly 1 million more job losses than men. More than two million women have left the workforce since the pandemic’s start, and women are leaving work at four times the rate of men.
“We haven't had a moment like this since the Great Depression. And we haven't had a moment like this ever, in terms of its impact on women,” said C. Nicole Mason, president and CEO of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.
Policy Analyst Diana Boesch at the Center for American Progress points out that a major factor is that women are disproportionately employed in the service sector industries like restaurants and healthcare, which have seen the greatest job losses since the recession began. Women are also less likely to have jobs that allow them to telecommute. When a December jobs report showed that the U.S. lost 140,000 jobs that month, women accounted for all of them.
“I'm devastated by the numbers,” Boesch said. “They’re massive. The impact on women, individually, their economic security, their ability to get a job is just unbelievable. But at the same time, this is not surprising to me. As a researcher in this field, I have seen how women have always come second. And women of color in particular have always come last.”
Black and Hispanic women are especially vulnerable to job losses and are more likely to be their family’s breadwinner. In two-parent households, mothers are stepping back from work to take on the additional childcare and home responsibilities brought on by the pandemic. A persistent gender-based wage gap shows women are routinely paid less than men, making women in two-earner households the likeliest parent to leave her job.
“It's both the push of job losses from the recession and the pull of increased caregiving as childcare providers are closed and schools have transitioned to virtual or hybrid learning that is really affecting women's employment in the labor market,” Boesch said. “And so this recession has the potential to create lasting harm for women's careers and the U.S. economy as a whole, and because it's different than previous recessions, we need different solutions than the traditional recovery responses.”
While the conversation around putting a dollar figure on mothers work is getting attention with the launch of Saujani’s proposal, the intricacies of valuing care work and how to best support women in this economic recovery is ongoing work among analysts, researchers, and policymakers.
"I don't think direct payments to only mothers is going to happen because mothers aren't the only caregivers in society," Mason said. “What is going to win us the day is lifting up sound policies that we know will work to build women's long term economic security, and that has to do with policies around childcare, paid and sick leave, raising the minimum wage, addressing racial and gender discrimination in the labor market, [and] shifting cultural narratives about who provide care to families — all these things need to happen.”
Boesch said she’s hopeful that proposals around emergency paid leave, equal pay, and increased funding to support childcare will see success with the new administration and in the new Congress.
“In last year's recovery plan, Congress passed emergency paid leave with bipartisan support, and the December Covid-19 relief package included some funding for child care, so there is an understanding from politicians that we need to support these issues,” Boesch said. “But it also means thinking long term and ensuring that we're building a better, more equitable future for women and to support caregiving, and work and care.” Together, a network of policies could lessen what Saujani calls a “motherhood penalty,” since women are disproportionately caregivers for their families.
“I think it's very important to say yes, all caregivers do matter. Dads matter, too. But all caregivers are not facing a penalty for being parents, and mothers do and mothers are.” Saujani said. “The reason why we're talking about basic income payments for mothers is because this issue is disproportionately affecting moms. And if we don't name it, we won't fix it.”