Editor’s Note: Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner is executive director and co-founder of MomsRising.org, a nonprofit national organization that supports policies to improve family economic security. She is the author of “Keep Marching: How Every Woman Can Take Action and Change Our World.” The views expressed here are solely hers. View more opinion on CNN.
Tuesday is Equal Pay Day. Much as it sounds like a day to celebrate, it’s a day to agitate. After all, it’s the day in 2022 until which women have to work – on average across all races and ethnicities – in order to earn what men were paid in 2021. Yes, you read that right: Women have to work 14-and-a-half months to earn what men earned in the 12 months of 2021.
And it gets worse.
There’s a grim reality in America: Being a mom is a greater predictor of wage and hiring discrimination than gender – and due to structural racism, Black, Brown, Indigenous and other moms of color experience compounded wage and hiring discrimination. The data is shocking. Latina moms earn just 46 cents, Native American moms just 50 cents and Black moms just 52 cents to a White dad’s dollar, according to the National Women’s Law Center. Moms, on average, are paid just 75 cents to every dollar that White fathers are paid, per that same study.
In her response to President Joe Biden’s first State of the Union address, Republican Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds mentioned the words “mom,” “parents” or “families” almost a dozen times, coming to a crescendo by saying that “parents matter.” But missing from her speech was any mention of the care infrastructure policies that really, truly matter to parents (ones that Biden rightly lifted up in his address).
Let’s be clear: If families really mattered to Republican leaders, then they wouldn’t be focused on banning important books, restricting access to reproductive healthcare and attacking LGBTQ+ kids. Instead, they’d be focused on building the care infrastructure America needs, which would go a long way toward finally breaking through the “maternal wall,” the barrier of bias that moms face in the workplace and our lives.
This maternal wall is holding the majority of women in America back and its extreme wage gaps hurt not only moms, women, parents and families – but also our communities, businesses and economy.
More than 85% of women become moms by the time we’re 44, according to Pew Research, including the majority of never-married women – and, importantly, the majority of families need moms’ wages to make ends meet, according to the Center for American Progress.
It also can’t be overlooked that in our consumer-fueled economy, women and moms make the majority of purchasing decisions. So, when we don’t have funds to spend at the grocery store, or to get our kids new shoes that fit their tiny growing toes, or for school supplies, or to fill our tanks with gas and more, then there are negative ripple effects through our whole economy.
If we take steps to close the wage gap by implementing solutions already at our fingertips, then our nation’s GDP would increase by nearly 3% and women’s poverty would be cut in half, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.
To be clear, smashing through the maternal wall is entirely and eminently possible. In fact, many of the care infrastructure measures that would address this crisis are under consideration in Congress right now and are policy priorities for the Biden administration.
Studies show that passing care infrastructure policies that cover people of all genders would not only boost our economy and help families, but also significantly help close the wage gaps between moms and non-moms – and thus between women and men. And a recent study found that building a care infrastructure would lift our country’s long-term real GDP growth by 10 to 15 basis points.
These care infrastructure policies include paid family/medical leave for when a new baby arrives or a serious health crisis strikes us or a close loved one – as all other industrialized nations have already done. Access to quality, affordable child care and Pre-K, living wages for all care workers, equitable health care and maternal health care, earned sick days, the monthly child tax credit, and home- and community-based services for the elderly and people with disabilities are also integral care infrastructure policy elements.
Unsurprisingly, these policies don’t just help narrow the wage gaps, they also help parents stay consistently in much-needed jobs and help businesses to thrive because with a care infrastructure in place, people aren’t pushed out of jobs when child care can’t be found or when a serious illness strikes or a new baby arrives. This too helps lower inflation because having consistent workforce participation helps address supply chain issues, which, in turn, helps lower inflation.
To add to the argument for immediate passage of these policies, adequate care infrastructure also helps lower family costs. Take, for instance, childcare, which is one of the consistently largest expenses for families, costing more than rent or college in most states and 30% of the income of low-income families, according to Child Care Aware.
Creating an affordable, accessible, quality childcare and Pre-K system would significantly lower family costs and, at the same time, bring a large return on investment for taxpayers because children who have early learning opportunities do better in school when they’re older – and moms who can stay in the workforce need less government assistance over time.
In addition to care infrastructure policies, we also need non-discrimination policies like the Paycheck Fairness Act, which adds labor force protections against unfair pay and prohibits retaliation for sharing salary information. This is in part because, as the majority of women are working in paid jobs, moms in particular have also been putting in a tremendous amount of unpaid, devalued and unaccounted for caregiving labor that’s worth trillions of dollars per year. The devaluation of this unpaid labor carries over into the lower valuation of the paid labor done by moms in the form of wage discrimination, and in particular to paid labor in care industries.
Not surprisingly, since the care infrastructure policies boost women, moms, parents and families, help combat systemic inequalities as well as lift our economy, their passage is also hugely popular with Republican, Democratic and Independent voters alike. In fact, recent polls show support a strong majority of US adults support federal funding for paid family and medical leave.
This spring we’ll begin a rhetorical courtship we’ve seen before. Both parties will tailor campaign messages toward an incredibly important bloc: moms. But we’ll need more than flowery words, empty promises or red herrings. Now our nation – and our nation’s moms – need permanent, national policy changes that support our first caregivers and push us past barriers that are holding back not just moms, but our entire country. It’s past time for Congress to update our outdated care infrastructure policies and advance equity so that our families, our businesses, our economy and our country can thrive – and so that moms can do the important work we need to do in our homes and our workplaces.