Editor’s Note: Alyssa Milano is an actor and activist who helped #MeToo go viral. She lives in LA and works in Georgia. The views expressed in this commentary are her own. Read more opinion articles on CNN.
In December, following the Thanksgiving holiday when lockdowns again became necessary because millions of people selfishly decided to ignore Covid-19 guidelines, the economy lost 140,000 jobs. On its own, that’s bad enough, but it’s not even close to the whole story. The truly shocking part is that women made up 100% of those job losses, losing a total of 156,000 jobs, while men gained 16,000 jobs that month. While women fared better than men in the January jobs report, 275,000 left the labor force that month.
These statistics are illustrative of just how severely this pandemic is affecting women. This why I support the Marshall Plan for Moms, which attempts to bring equity back to women and the labor force. Its most discussed feature – a short-term monthly payment to moms to compensate for the unpaid and often invisible labor we are doing – is so important, but it’s just a small part of what the plan will achieve.
Other fundamental tenets include passing policies that support working women such as pay equity, family leave and affordable childcare; retraining programs that will help women step into emerging jobs; and safely re-opening schools to take the childcare burden off mothers. By focusing on these issues, the plan will begin to address persistent structural disadvantages that take economic power and freedom from women and perpetuate a workforce that allows us to be underpaid and left out of positions of power and influence. When we can go back to the paid workforce, a Marshall Plan for Moms can make sure we can do it in a way that is equitable.
We all already know that the economy and jobs market are worse for women. As a whole, we are paid 82 cents for every dollar men make, according to a report from the American Association of University Women based on US Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ data. It’s even worse for Black, Indigenous and women of color: According to the same report, Black women make just 63% of what white men make, and Latina women make just 55%. At the outset of the pandemic last spring, women were disproportionately affected by the pandemic. Our unemployment rate increased by 12.8% compared to 9.9% for men between February and April of 2020. Not only do we make less money when we are employed, it’s harder for us to get and keep jobs.
But to be clear, it’s not that women aren’t working; it’s that we are doing the critical and extremely difficult unpaid labor of motherhood. And for so many women during the pandemic, this is a forced career change, one they did not ask for and did not train for, but one which they undertook anyway.
Last September alone, four times as many women left the labor force as men, and twice as many women as men did so for childcare purposes. At home, we suddenly became teachers and full-time caregivers. We’re figuring out how to keep our kids engaged in their education and participating in schooling – often without any support. My kids are a few years apart in age – which means a big difference in how and what they are taught – and it’s often on us moms to figure out how to make that work. I’m very lucky that I have support and resources to do this, but I know countless women in America do not.
It’s not just education we’re managing, though. It’s the mental health of our kids who have been unable to see their friends and do the normal socializing and activities that are critical to their development. We’re managing households, figuring out how to get groceries safely and without the finances we had when we had paying jobs. We’re doing the domestic work of the home and doing it with a whole new level of care and attention because we don’t want one particle of the virus surviving in our households. We’re working so much more – and we’re not getting paid for it.
Look, I get that dedicating funds to compensate mothers might sound impossible. Covid-19 just gutted our economy. It has stripped the country down to its foundations and laid bare so much deep rot lurking inside its walls. But this is our chance for a remodel. We can fix the problems and rebuild the job market in a way that is better, safer, and more equitable for all.
The Marshall Plan for Moms is an important first step. There hasn’t been an opportunity like this to mold workforce practices since World War II, when millions of women entered the workplace for the first time. We failed women then by stripping the gains they made once the war ended. When men came back from the war, women left the workforce in droves and went back to working for free at home; the ones who remained in the workforce were often demoted. Generations later, women still have not achieved workplace equity. We can’t let that happen now. We need to get it right this time.
This pandemic has illustrated, once again, a core truth of our nation: the work of women is essential. It’s time we were paid like it.