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  • Writer's pictureHolly Corbett

Mother's Equal Pay Day 2022: How The Pay Gap Impacts Families

Sept. 8 2022

Mother wearing braids and an orange shirt at a computer with two children jumping around.
Mother’s Equal Pay Day marks how far into the year mothers must work to earn what fathers did last year alone. GETTY

A college degree and strong work ethic aren’t always enough for mothers to be able to take care of themselves and their families. Such was the case for Shuntera Brown, 39, a single mother of 16-year old twin boys and a 10-year old daughter who lives in Phoenix, Arizona.

Despite having a college degree and getting certified in medical insurance billing, holding multiple jobs and once even working a night shift in a factory while her father watched her children, she was never quite able to save an emergency fund - especially after childcare “wasn’t accessible” after losing her mother in 2013 from pancreatic cancer.

Brown was already struggling to pay her bills and juggle work with caring for her three children. Then in December of 2020, she and her children got Covid. While her children recovered fairly quickly, Brown wasn’t 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 got behind on my bills and was basically robbing Peter to pay Paul. It finally caught up to me in May, and it turned into a very nasty 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. Paying for nightly hotels accumulated to higher costs than her rent. Despite the financial hardships, she says she persevered for her children. “I used to go to sleep with my phone in my hand, Googling jobs and telling myself to never give up,” says Brown. “I continued to fill out job applications and followed every lead.” She eventually got a position that includes healthcare and recently interviewed for a promotion since working there for less than a year.

Mothers may have served as America’s social safety net during the pandemic, but unfortunately, Brown’s economic hardships aren’t uncommon for many mothers—especially mothers of color. Today, September 8th, is Mother’s Equal Pay Day and marks how far into the year mothers must work to earn what fathers did last year alone. There is a gender pay gap in 94% of occupations with women making 83 cents on the dollar, but the gap widens for mothers, who make just 74 cents on the dollar. That means they stand to lose $17,000 annually, but the wage gap widens and losses are even greater for women of color: Black mothers lose an average of $34,000 compared to white fathers, Native American mothers $36,000 and Latina mothers $38,000.

This most recent wage gap data comes from 2020, the year the pandemic hit in the U.S., and doesn’t reflect how women were pushed out of the workforce in larger numbers or into part-time jobs as schools and daycare centers shut down.

“Obviously 2020 was a total anomaly,” says Jasmine Tucker, director of research at the National Women’s Law Center. “Pandemic job losses were largely concentrated in low-paid workers without a lot of benefits in industries where women are over-represented, such as retail and hospitality. Women are still down 427,000 jobs in the labor force compared to February 2020. While the data typically looks at people working full-time, year around, this 74 cents on the dollar number for mothers misses those who lost jobs, or switched to part-time work when schools shut down.”

To account for this, the National Women’s Law Center also analyzed the wage gap data for all working mothers in 2020 and compared it to all working fathers that year—including both part-time and full-time workers— and found mothers are typically paid just 58 cents for every dollar paid to fathers. That’s why the date moved farther into the year from May 5th in 2021 to September 8th in 2022.

There are many factors underlying the wage gap, but Tucker says a big factor is that men’s wages continue to rise throughout their working lives, while women’s rise less quickly 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,” says Tucker. “I think there are some of these old notions that men support the family and therefore need more money. There's some affinity to pay fathers more for the work that they're doing. Women in the workplace are facing sexism, and especially mothers due to all the caregiving responsibilities they have, which makes them more likely to take time out of the workforce and receive lower wages when they return.”

The truth is that 40% of women are their families’ primary breadwinner, and Black mothers are twice as likely as white mothers to be their family’s primary breadwinner, according to the Center for American Progress.

A lack of support infrastructure also pushes women out of the workforce and contributes to the gender and racial wage gap. America has no national paid leave policyand many women are in jobs that lack this benefit. “There are studies that show when women are offered paid leave, they’re more likely to return to their job,” says Tucker. “There is also a lack of affordable childcare, forcing mothers to stay home to care for their kids rather than return to the workforce. We’re still in a childcare crisis. Compared to February 2020, we’re down one out of every 12 childcare workers,” says Tucker. “Do women have childcare options, and if so, is it even affordable?”

When it comes to what companies can do to close the gap, Tucker thinks it should be a multi-pronged approach, with salary transparency, creating salary bands, and banning asking about salary history being steps in the right direction. “Being able to see what your peers make and basing your salary on that can help, as can setting salary bands, where there is a range set for a specific job title and years of experience,” says Tucker. “We see much smaller wage gaps between men and women in unionized jobs where there are some of those salary bands. Also banning employers from asking for salary history is another good thing, because if you were underpaid in your previous job and faced sexism or racism, that shouldn't be tied to what you're making at your next job.”

Finally, legislation can be put in place. “There's equal pay legislation that could be passed at the state and federal level,” says Tucker. “The Paycheck Fairness Act comes and dies every year in Congress. But unless we address the childcare crisis that we have, where parents are paying an arm and a leg for care as we simultaneously underpay the childcare workers who make an average of $12 an hour, the business model doesn’t work. We need to invest in childcare as a public good, pay living wages for childcare workers, and offer universal pre-K and subsidies to make childcare more affordable. Otherwise, we will continue to see mothers pushed out of the workforce and we will not be able to close the wage gap.”

*Article originally published in Forbes


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