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Why securing equal pay for moms is the 'unfinished business of the women's movement'

Wednesday is Moms' Equal Pay Day, a day designed to raise awareness about the wage gap experienced by moms—and its disproportionate impact on moms of color. Working moms earn $0.75 for every dollar fathers make.
Balancing a new business and a new baby
Shot of a young woman working at home while holding her newborn baby sonpixdeluxe / Getty Images

For every dollar American men make, American women make $0.82. But women who happen to be mothers tend to make even less.

On average, mothers make $0.75 for every dollar fathers make. That gap has remained about the same for 30 years.

Wednesday is Moms' Equal Pay Day, a day designed to raise awareness about the wage gap experienced by moms—and its disproportionate impact on moms of color. This particular day was chosen for 2021 because mothers have to work until May 5, 2021 to make the same amount of money that fathers did in 2020 alone.

“The Covid-19 pandemic exposed the unfinished business of the women’s movement to change the system of work that is not working for mothers,” said Noreen Farrell, executive director of Equal Rights Advocates and Chair of the national Equal Pay Today Coalition, the organization that has been hosting Equal Pay Day since 2013. “Mothers face very specific workplace discrimination that fathers often do not. The consequences show up in their paychecks.”

The ‘motherhood penalty’

“There's certainly a penalty for being a woman in business, but that penalty really becomes acute when one is in her childbearing years and becomes a mother,” said Jill Koziol, co-founder and CEO of Motherly, a woman-centered, evidence-based, expert-driven platform for mothers.

This week, Motherly released the results of its fourth annual State of Motherhood Survey Report, the largest statistically significant survey of millennial mothers in America. Motherly surveyed 11,000 mothers, and Edge Research weighed the data to align with U.S. Census demographic data to provide a full picture of motherhood during the past year.

According to the survey, 64 percent of working mothers say their child and household duties have harmed their paid work in the last year, and just about half of working mothers (48 percent) have considered leaving the workforce because of the cost of childcare.

Koziol felt this strain herself. She and her family moved from the Bay Area to Utah this past August, in part to ensure that her two children could attend school in-person while she and her husband worked full-time. She said her family needed that “government backstop” of public education.

“Study after study has shown that in response to school, child care, and summer camp closings, as well as reduced school hours and reduced class sizes, significantly more women than men have reduced their work hours, sidestepped promotions, left work to care for children and spent more time on education and household tasks,” said Farrell. Since there was already a wage gap with women—especially mothers—making less than men, families prioritized the higher income, making mothers the “default parent.”

Making waves in Washington

There are several proposals on the table that would make sweeping changes for moms at the federal level.

Moms should be considered essential workers, according to Reshma Saujani of Girls Who Code, who introduced the Marshall Plan for Moms earlier this year.

Together with 50 high-profile women activists and creatives, including the leaders of the Womens’ March and the #MeToo movement, plus actresses Eva Longoria, Gabrielle Union, Connie Britton, Julianne Moore and Amy Schumer Saujani petitioned the Biden Administration to issue direct payments of $2,400 a month to mothers for their unseen, unpaid labor. A few weeks later, 50 prominent men publicly expressed support for the effort. The plan also calls for family leave policies, increased funding for childcare and pay equity.

Since Saujani announced the plan, it has been introduced in the Senate by Democratic Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith, both of Minnesota, and submitted to the House of Representatives by Democratic Rep. Grace Meng of New York.

Separately, President Biden’s American Families Rescue Plan aims to cap childcare spending at 7 percent of total income for lower- and middle-class families. It will also offer paid family leave options, universal preschool and a child tax credit.

Even before the pandemic struck, Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts proposed that the federal government should fund Universal Childcare Act. Born of her own experience finding childcare during law school, Warren created a plan for the federal government to partner with local providers to create a network of child care options that would be available to every family.

Regardless of political affiliation, mothers are calling for change in overwhelming numbers. The Motherly survey found that 92 percent of mothers support legislative action to increase support for childcare and/or parental leave, and 85 percent of mothers say they would support or vote for a political candidate who supported childcare legislation that did more to actively support mothers, regardless of that candidate’s party affiliation.

Supporting working mothers

Working mothers want pay equity. But they also want to feel supported in other ways.

In the Motherly survey, mothers asked for longer, paid maternity leave (64 percent), increased position flexibility (58 percent) and support for childcare, either on-site or through subsidies (53 percent).

Koziol stressed the importance of normalizing parenting, saying, “Let’s stop acting like women have to pretend they’re not parents when they’re at work. In many ways, becoming a parent makes a much better employee: parents are incredibly dedicated, they are able to balance and to multitask and they’re able to really focus on what needs to get done.”

Farrell said, “The time is now for a comprehensive set of solutions to get mothers back to work, with equitable work conditions and a strong care infrastructure in place.”