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Why Equal Pay for Moms Impacts Everyone 

Missie Thurston Sep 08, 2022

Today is Mom’s Equal Pay day. Why do we need a day like today? Because we need to draw attention to the fact that moms in the U.S. make an average of 75 cents for every dollar a dad makes. We need to recognize that in addition to earning less at work, moms traditionally shoulder more responsibility for the well-being of immediate and extended family members. Without this labor, the entire economic system fails – but that doesn’t stop that work from going unpaid.  

Pandemic Pressure Illustrates Systemic Failures 

When Covid hit and our state went into lockdown, my husband and I weren’t sure how we were going to survive. For a few months, we barely did. We split childcare–each working half-days. After our daughter went to bed, we’d work into the night to cover the hours of work we had missed during the day. I have never felt like such a shell of myself. I kept telling myself that we were the lucky ones because we could at least continue to work, unlike millions of my global neighbors who were immediately cut from their incomes. 

I watched as our friends of similar socio-economic status made decisions to leave work. It was always the woman who reduced her hours or cut her hours completely. Why? She made less money and it’s culturally expected that women are primarily responsible for caring for children. And caring for extended family. And cleaning the house. And cooking. 

According to the Marshall Plan for Moms, 58% of women say their mental health has declined in the past two years. Since the pandemic, 1.1 million women are still out of the labor force. As our childcare systems were closed–this predominantly fell on women. As at-home services for elderly or differently abled were shuttered, this predominantly fell on women. 

As the pandemic proved, if we don’t have childcare, we don’t have workers. Without workers, we don’t have a functioning economy. The mom who wants to be working but who is forced to stay at home to provide childcare is doing a tremendous service for the economy – she just doesn’t get paid for it. 

Why Do Moms in the Workplace Matter? 

Some may see that 1.1 million women are still out of the labor force since the pandemic and immediately look to the current economic numbers to see if that matters. It’s like they have forgotten what happened, what the pandemic showed us, and it appears that it’s impossible for them to assess this situation in anything other than aggregate economic forecasts that presume childcare. “Women at home, caring for kids, is fine – even wholesome,” some might say. 

To these people who have no concerns about a woman’s ability to choose if and when she works, I bet you have not had that choice taken from you. A mom’s ability to work cuts across three vital, interconnected dimensions – individual, social, and economic. 

The individual level is the easiest to comprehend. A person’s work, or ability to work, directly impacts their income. Even if there is another income in the household, the amount of money available to that family changes if the mother is not working or when she is paid 75 cents on the dollar compared to a man. The reality for that mom and her children is fundamentally different. 

And a woman’s control over financial decisions is definitely impacted if she is not the earner, even if it’s self-imposed. It’s well-known that, speaking in averages, women invest much more of every dollar earned into their families and communities than men do. And by de-centering a woman’s right to work outside of the home, we have deprived women, families, and communities of women’s earning power and decisions about how to use those dollars. 

That brings us to the social level. Not only does the average woman spend money differently than the average man, to the benefit of her family and community, she also has inherent value as a worker. Society at large benefits when women are empowered to contribute to society in many ways. Each woman’s path will be unique and so this will take different shapes across numerous industries and countless careers – but the point is that each woman who goes to work each day brings her ideas, experiences, perspective, and brilliance to the situation at hand. We need women in every facet of life. We need them as engineers, scientists, writers, teachers, and yes, as caregivers. And they should be well-compensated. 

And then we arrive at the economic level – which Covid again made more clear than any study or model could have. Our economic engine runs on energy—workers—doing things and making things that allow for the constant cycling of capital. When the labor stops, so does our economy.  

What the pandemic showed is that instead of a strategic and organized series of safety nets designed to protect the health and well-being of people and our economy (like robust and well-funded childcare and healthcare systems), instead of these – we have moms. Moms are expected to pick it all up. Work that job that pays you 75% of what your male counterpart earns, absorb any childcare shortages, take on any healthcare shortages, and wake up and do it again the next morning. 

Don’t we owe our moms more than this? Don’t we owe our children more than this? Don’t we owe ourselves and our neighbors more than this?  

To think that we are not shortchanging ourselves and our communities when we either force women to leave the workforce altogether or we squash their brilliance under an overwhelming blanket of exhaustion, or debt, or both – is choosing to be ignorant.  

Most of our shows focus on gender equity. We have worked to make it socially acceptable for women to work outside the home; we have modeled women’s equal decision-making in household financial decisions.  

At Population Media Center, we know that moms and women are at the heart of our communities, our schools, our health care systems, and our economy. We know that we can choose a healthier, more equitable, and flourishing world for all–especially if we let women and girls lead the way.  

Join us on this Moms Equal Pay Day to promote the equitable, sustainable world we’re all fighting for, one action at a time. Commit to talking with those closest to you about what the pandemic showed us related to women–and especially moms–and why the oppression of anyone oppresses us all.