On Mother’s Day, Moms Need Congress to Take Actions to Strengthen Their Families’ Economic Security
By Sapna Mehta
This Mother’s Day, moms don’t need chocolates or flowers—they need Congress to take real legislative action on issues that matter. It’s been 60 years since President John F. Kennedy, Jr. convened the President’s Commission on the Status of Women. The Commission documented widespread workplace discrimination against women, noting outdated assumptions governing the labor market that had to change. At that time, 11 percent of mothers were the primary household breadwinners. But today, they are the breadwinners in 41 percent of all households, with 68 percent of Black mothers as breadwinners in their households. The pandemic pushed nearly two million women out of the labor force, with mothers forced to leave their jobs at higher rates.
Policy solutions that support working mothers and improve the quality of jobs will strengthen women’s economic security. Here’s a look at the menu of policy solutions Congress must pass to give mothers what they really need.
Significant investments in child care: Families across the income spectrum are struggling to access quality, affordable child care. Among families who pay for child care, those with the lowest incomes spend 35 percent of their income on care—five times more than what the federal government considers affordable. Despite the rising cost of child care, the child care workforce—disproportionately comprised of Black, Latinx and immigrant women—remains underpaid and undervalued. That’s part of an enduring legacy of racism and sexism in our economy. Congress must invest in stabilizing the child care market, making high-quality care more affordable for families, and raising wages for child care workers.
Paid family and medical leave: Mothers, who are often the primary caregivers for their families, lack access to paid family leave to care for a new child, aging parent, or sick family member. Research finds that 6 out of 10 Black women either don’t take the leave they need or do so without pay, costing them $3.9 billion in lost wages each year. Paid leave can increase women’s economic security and help reverse the economic fallout of mothers leaving the labor force due to caregiving needs.
The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act: Seventy-five percent of women entering the workforce will be pregnant and employed at some point in their lives. But our workplace policies continue to be out of touch with the realities of pregnancy. Too often, pregnant workers are forced to choose between a healthy pregnancy and their paychecks if their employers refuse to provide modest, medically necessary pregnancy accommodations. This is especially true for Black and Latinx women in physically demanding jobs with low pay. The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act—legislation to provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant employees—was approved by the House of Representatives and is awaiting a vote in the Senate.
The Schedules that Work Act: Mothers working in low-wage jobs often find themselves up against volatile work schedules—hours and shifts that change daily or weekly, with little advance notice. Black and Latinx women are disproportionately impacted by unpredictable schedules. This instability makes it difficult for working mothers to secure quality child care or budget effectively to meet expenses. Passing the Schedules that Work Act would increase employee input into work schedules and incentivize predictable and stable schedules, increasing women and families’ economic stability.
Pay equity: Millions of women and mothers are overrepresented in jobs paying low wages —a driving factor in the persistent gender wage gap. Due to systemic inequities in the labor market, these disparities are compounded for Black, Indigenous, and Latinx women. While women collectively earn 83 cents for each dollar a white man earns, this penalty is steeper for women of color. Latinx women are paid 55 cents and Black women are paid 66 cents for every dollar paid to their white male counterparts. Raising the federal minimum wage to at least $15/hour, and guaranteeing tipped workers receive the full minimum wage before tips, can help narrow race and gender wage disparities.
The PRO Act: Unions also help counteract disparate labor market outcomes by reducing racial wage disparities and boosting women’s wages. Legislation like the Protecting the Right to Organize Act (PRO Act) protects the right of workers to form a union and collectively bargain with employers for higher wages, better benefits, and safer workplaces. The PRO Act passed the House, but has stalled in the Senate.
Access to abortion care: Finally, mothers need reproductive freedom. Just this week, a leaked U.S. Supreme Court draft opinion signaled the Court would overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling. That would strip millions of people capable of pregnancy of their right to access an abortion—disproportionately harming women with low incomes and women of color. Studies show that women forced to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term are four times more likely to live in poverty compared to women who had an abortion. Lawmakers must enact the Women’s Health Protection Act to safeguard access to abortion.
This Mother’s Day, Congress should take legislative action to strengthen women and families’ economic stability and health security. Decisive federal action can begin to reverse generations of systemic sexism, racism, and other barriers to economic mobility for mothers and their families. These policies can start to ensure the next generation of women have the ability to succeed.