A college degree and a strong work ethic aren’t always enough for moms to take care of themselves and their families. Such was the case for Shuntera Brown, 39, a single mother of 16-year-old twins and a 10-year-old daughter who lives in Phoenix, Arizona.
Although she has a college degree and earned certification in medical insurance billing, worked several jobs, and once even worked night shifts in a factory while her father watched his children, she was never able to save an emergency fund.
“I always relied on my mom to help me with the kids after my sons’ father died when I was six months pregnant,” Brown says. “But my mum passed away in 2013 from pancreatic cancer. Childcare wasn’t available to me at the time because I was on social security for my sons – which wasn’t a lot of money. money – and that meant I was not entitled to it. I had no affordable options.
Brown was already struggling to pay her bills and juggle work and caring for her three children. Then in December 2020, she and her children caught Covid. While her children recovered fairly quickly, Brown was not so lucky. “I have asthma, and it really affected my lungs. I was out of work longer than expected, about 20 days,” says Brown. “I fell behind on my bills and was basically stealing from Peter to pay Paul. It finally caught up with me in May and it turned into a very unpleasant situation.
Brown was evicted from her apartment after falling behind on rent, leaving her family homeless and forcing her to find hotels in safe neighborhoods. The overnight hotel payment was accumulating at higher costs than his rent. Despite the financial difficulties, she says she persevered for her children. “I used to go to sleep with my phone in my hand, googling jobs and telling myself never to give up,” Brown says. “I kept filling out job applications and following every lead.”
She eventually got a call from an agency with an opportunity at a major financial company and, after an interview, got a job that included healthcare. Since working there for less than a year, she has been named employee of the month twice and was recently interviewed for a promotion. “I did what I’m supposed to do and I’m fine. I’m really happy. It has completely changed my financial situation.
Mothers may have served as America’s social safety net during the pandemic, but unfortunately Brown’s economic hardship is not uncommon for many mothers, especially mothers of color. Today, September 8, is Equal Pay Mothers Day and marks how far mothers have to work to earn what fathers have done just last year. There is a gender pay gap in 94% of occupations, with women earning 83 cents on the dollar, but the gap widens for mothers, who earn only 74 cents on the dollar. This means they stand to lose $17,000 a year, but the pay gap is widening and the losses are even greater for women of color: black mothers lose an average of $34,000 to white fathers, Native American mothers $36,000 and Latina mothers $38,000.
This most recent pay gap data is from 2020, the year the pandemic hit the United States, and does not reflect how women have been pushed out of the workforce in greater numbers or into part-time jobs when schools and daycares closed.
“Obviously, 2020 was a total anomaly,” says Jasmine Tucker, research director at the National Women’s Law Center. “Pandemic job losses were largely concentrated on low-paid workers without many benefits in sectors where women are overrepresented, such as retail and hospitality. Women are still down 427,000 jobs in the labor force from February 2020. While the data is generally for those working full-time, full-year, that 74 cents on the dollar count for mothers is missing. those who have lost their jobs or gone on to part-time work when schools close.
To account for this, the National Women’s Law Center also analyzed wage gap data for all working mothers in 2020 and compared it to all working fathers that year — including part-time workers. part-time and full-time – and found that mothers are typically paid just 58 cents for every dollar paid to fathers. This is why the date has moved further in the year, from May 5, 2021 to September 8, 2022.
Many factors underlie the pay gap, but Tucker says an important factor is that men’s salaries continue to increase throughout their working lives, while women’s increase less rapidly and the gap starts to widen when they have kids, so they can never catch up.
“What we see in the data is that moms don’t necessarily have a penalty, but dads have a bonus,” Tucker says. “I think there are some of these old notions that men support the family and therefore need more money. There is a certain affinity to paying fathers more for the work that they do. Working women face sexism, and especially mothers because of all the care responsibilities they have, making them more likely to miss work and receive lower wages when they return.
The truth is that 40% of women are the primary breadwinner in their family, and black mothers are twice as likely as white mothers to be the primary breadwinner, according to the Center for American Progress.
A lack of supportive infrastructure also pushes women out of the workforce and contributes to the gender and racial wage gap. America doesn’t have a national paid vacation policy, and many women work in jobs that don’t have this benefit. “There are studies that show that when women are offered paid time off, they’re more likely to return to work,” Tucker says. “There is also a lack of affordable childcare, which forces mothers to stay home to care for their children rather than returning to the workforce. We are still in a child care crisis. Compared to February 2020, we lost one in 12 child care workers,” says Tucker. “Do women have childcare options, and if so, is it even affordable?”
As for what companies can do to close the gap, Tucker thinks it should be a multi-pronged approach, with pay transparency, creating pay bands and banning asking salary history questions as steps in the right direction. “Being able to see what your peers are earning and basing your salary on that can help, as can defining salary bands, where there’s a set range for a specific job title and years of experience,” says Tucker. “We see much smaller pay gaps between men and women in unionized jobs where there are some of these pay bands. Also prohibiting employers from asking for salary history is another good thing because if you were underpaid in your previous job and faced sexism or racism, it shouldn’t be tied to what you earn. to your next job.
Finally, legislation can be put in place. “There is equal pay legislation that could be passed at the state and federal level,” Tucker says. “The Paycheck Fairness Act comes and dies every year in Congress. But unless we tackle the child care crisis we have, where parents pay an arm and a leg for care while we simultaneously underpay child care workers who earn averaging $12 an hour, the business model doesn’t work. We need to invest in child care as a public good, pay living wages to child care workers, and provide universal pre-kindergarten and subsidies to make child care more affordable. Otherwise, we will continue to see mothers excluded from the labor market and we will not be able to close the wage gap.