“For everything you’ve taught me…” “For always being there…” “For all the sacrifices you’ve made… thanks, Mom.” These and messages like them are what mothers across the country will be reading in greeting cards and hearing from loved ones this weekend. But, for mothers who hold jobs, one reality is missing from these heartfelt sentiments. Where is the card that says thanks “For being a working mother in a country that rarely provides you the support you need and deserve”?
Women make up nearly half of the workforce in the United States today, and most families need two incomes to make ends meet. Women are breadwinners in two-thirds of households, and we continue to be the primary caregivers for our families. Yet the country is woefully behind in enacting policies that help women be the responsible employees and mothers they desperately want to be. And women, families, businesses and our economy suffer as a result.
With national dialogue around books like Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, policy changes at Yahoo! and momentum for family friendly policies at the state and city levels, we are — fortunately — seeing some of the workplace issues that matter to women and mothers break through. But attention has largely been focused on a small and elite segment of the workforce, and it has not translated into broad-based federal level progress on policies that would help.
So, this Mother’s Day, we at the National Partnership for Women & Families are thinking about some new messages of gratitude for America’s mothers — ones that better reflect the tremendous achievement it is to be one today:
“For providing for your family even though you take home less than men… thanks, Mom.” Women in nearly every corner of the country are still paid less than men — even when occupation and education level are accounted for. That’s why we need the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would combat harmful discriminatory pay practices in our nation’s workplaces.
“For doing your best in a country where women are still fired or forced out of their jobs for becoming pregnant… thanks, Mom.” Six in 10 women who give birth in a one-year period also work during that time, yet pregnant workers are still forced out of the workplace by employers that refuse to provide them reasonable accommodations — like carrying a water bottle — that would allow them to continue working. The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act would help to prevent this blatant discrimination.
“For caring and providing for your family even though you do not have the right to earn a single paid sick day… thanks, Mom.” When they get the flu or a child gets strep throat, more than 40 million workers in this country have to choose between health and a paycheck because they cannot earn paid sick days. These workers, including millions who are mothers, need the national paid sick days standard the Healthy Families Act would provide.
“For having a child in the only highly industrialized nation that does not guarantee you any paid time off to do so… thanks, Mom.” As a new infographic from the National Partnership illustrates, the United States is one of only a handful of nations that does not guarantee paid leave for new mothers. Just 11 percent of private sector workers have access to paid family leave and only 40 percent of the workforce is eligible for paid medical leave. It is past time for a national paid leave insurance program.
These messages — and they really only scratch the surface of the challenges America’s working mothers face — illustrate the incredible strength and resilience of mothers who hold jobs in this country. But they also reveal a stark and unacceptable reality: We are far from ensuring mothers the equality, fair treatment and support they deserve.
Fortunately, some states are doing better. Last year, the National Partnership released a report, Expecting Better, detailing the laws some states have enacted to fill the gaps in national standards. We know that at least eight states require some employers to provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant workers. And we are seeing incredible momentum around and support for paid sick days policies. Just this week, the New York City Council approved a measure to guarantee nearly one million workers the right to earn paid sick days. This historic achievement builds on the success of paid sick days laws that already exist in Connecticut, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., Seattle and, soon, Portland, Oregon.
But a patchwork of policies is not the solution working mothers need — or deserve. Just think: Would members of Congress be willing to send these messages to their mothers? Then why aren’t proposals like the Paycheck Fairness Act, the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, the Healthy Families Act and a national paid family and medical leave insurance program among their highest priorities?
This Mother’s Day, let’s think about the real messages we’re sending mothers by failing to establish the family friendly workplace standards they need. And let’s insist that lawmakers do something about it.