To Support Moms, Pass Family-Friendly Policies—Not False Promises

By Pronita Gupta

Mother’s Day is an important opportunity to reflect on the critical ways that working moms contribute to the economic health and security of their families and the nation—and why it’s more critical than ever for them to have high-quality jobs that pay fairly and provide time to care for their families.

Today, more women with children are working than ever before. In just forty years, the labor force participation rate for mothers has increased from 47 percent to 70 percent. This equates to over 25.1 million mothers with children under age 18 in the labor force, representing more than a third (34.2 percent) of working women. Women of color, especially Black mothers, have always worked at a higher rate. Moreover, women have become the sole or primary breadwinners in 42 percent of families and co-breadwinners in 22.4 percent of families. Nonetheless moms also continue to be the primary caregivers of both children and elders in their families.

The increase of women in the workforce improves the economic security of their families and is essential for the economic health of the United States. However, after consistently rising over the past 30 years to almost half the workforce (46.8 percent), women’s labor force participation rates are starting to plateau. One of the key contributing factors to this plateauing is the lack of job quality standards in the workplace. When working families have access to paid sick days, paid family and medical leave, and flexible and predictable schedules, they are better able to care for their own needs and their families’ needs without losing a paycheck or their job.  For example, studies have found that when women take paid family and medical leave to bond with a new child, they are more likely to return to work after their leave and increase their hours and wages.

However, most working mothers face significant challenges balancing work and family demands. Rising economic inequality and wage stagnation coupled with unpredictable work schedules and a lack of paid sick days and family leave end up pushing too many families further into economic insecurity, including poverty for too many. Nearly 95 million workers have no paid family leave, and more than 40 million workers have no access to paid sick days. A significant majority of those without these work-family policies are low-income women and women of color. Many low-wage, working mothers lose their jobs due to a lack of sick days—and job loss after giving birth is quite common, particularly among women of color. Additionally, a recent study found that 40 percent of hourly workers receive advance notice of only one week or less about their job schedules. Such unpredictable scheduling can make it extremely difficult for a mother with young children to make appropriate child care arrangements or even to  budget funds for family needs such as rent and food.

The U.S. House of Representatives recently passed the Working Families Flexibility Act of 2017, which proponents claim would help alleviate some of the challenges facing working families. However, this misleadingly named bill would only further erode critical labor protections working families need. The bill would allow employers to offer compensatory time (comp time) in lieu of overtime when an employee is asked to work more than 40 hours in a week. However, workers wouldn’t have a guarantee they can use this comp time when the need arises; employers have discretion over when the worker can use the comp time. This means that a struggling, low-income single mother who may rely on overtime to make ends meet could end up foregoing much-needed income and might not gain any additional flexibility if she can’t use the comp time when she actually needs it. Fortunately, members of Congress have introduced several viable proposals, and many similar policies have been successfully implemented at the state and local level. These proposed federal policies include:

  • The Healthy Families Act (H.R. 1516/ S. 636) would ensure millions of workers have access to earned sick days. Similar legislation has been successfully adopted in seven states and thirty-two localities. 
  • The Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act (H.R. 947/ S. 337) would create a national paid leave insurance program, modeled on the successful programs in California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island, that allows workers to take paid leave to care for a new child, seriously ill family member, or for their own serious illness.  
  • The Schedules That Work Act would ensure workers have the right to request more flexible or predictable work schedules and provide retail, restaurant, and building cleaning workers with advance notice of their schedules and compensation for last-minute schedule changes.

Even Federal Reserve Chairwomen Janet Yellen recently acknowledged the critical role that women in the labor force play in strengthening the country’s economic health. Yellen underscored the need for better family-friendly work policies to enable this to happen.

Working mothers deserve quality jobs that provide critical workplace supports. These policies can also increase gender equity in the home and in the workplace. So this Mother’s Day, instead of bad policies such as the Working Families Flexibility Act, let’s pass sound family friendly policies that truly make a difference in working mothers’ lives.