A college degree and a strong work ethic are not always enough for mothers to take care of themselves and their families. Such was the case for Shuntera Brown, 39, a single mother of 16-year-old twins and a 10-year-old daughter who lives in Phoenix, AZ.
Despite having a college degree and certification in health insurance billing, working multiple jobs, and once even working the night shift in a factory while his father took care of his children, he was never able to save an emergency fund.
“I had always relied on my mom to help me with the kids after the father of my kids died when I was six months pregnant,” says Brown. “But then my mother passed away in 2013 from pancreatic cancer. Child care wasn’t affordable for me at the time, because I was getting social security for my kids, which wasn’t a lot of money, and that meant I didn’t qualify for it. I had no affordable option.”
Brown was already struggling to pay her bills and juggle work and caring for her three children. Then, in December 2020, she and her children contracted Covid. While her children recovered fairly quickly, Brown was not 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 stealing from Peter to pay Paul. He finally caught me in May and it turned into a very unpleasant situation.”
Brown was evicted from her apartment after falling behind on her rent, leaving her family homeless and forcing her to seek hotels in safe neighborhoods. Pay for overnight hotels accumulated at higher costs than renting it. Despite her financial difficulties, she says she persevered for her children. “I used to go to sleep with my phone in my hand, Google jobs and tell myself I never gave up,” says Ella Brown. “I kept filling out job applications and followed all the leads.”
She eventually got a call from an agency with an opportunity at a large finance company, and after the interview, she landed a position that includes healthcare. Since she worked there for less than a year, she has been named employee of the month twice and was recently interviewed for a promotion. “I have been doing what I am supposed to do and I am doing it well. I’m really happy. My whole financial situation has changed.”
The mothers may have served as America’s social safety net during the pandemic, but unfortunately, Brown’s financial struggles are not uncommon for many mothers, especially mothers of color. Today, September 8, is Equal Pay Mothers Day and marks how far into the year mothers must work to earn what fathers earned last year alone. There is a gender pay gap in 94% of occupations with women earning 83 cents on the dollar, but the gap widens for mothers, who earn just 74 cents on the dollar. That means they are standing lose $17,000 a yearBut the wage gap widens and the 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 pay gap data comes from 2020, the year the pandemic hit the US, and does not reflect how women were pushed out of the workforce in greater numbers or into part-time jobs as women schools and nurseries closed.
“Obviously 2020 was a total anomaly,” says Jasmine Tucker, director of research at the National Women’s Law Center. “The job losses from the pandemic have been largely concentrated in low-paid workers without many benefits in industries where women are overrepresented, such as retail and hospitality. Women still have 427,000 fewer jobs in the workforce compared to February 2020. While the data generally looks at people who work full-time, year-round, this figure of 74 cents on the dollar for mothers does not include those who lost their jobs or switched to part-time work. work time when schools close.
To account for this, the National Women’s Law Center also looked at pay gap data for all working mothers in 2020 and compared it to all working fathers that year, including part-time and full-time workers, and found that mothers are typically paid just 58 cents for every dollar paid to fathers. That is why the date was brought forward in the year from May 5, 2021 to September 8, 2022.
There are many factors underlying the pay gap, but Tucker says one important factor is that men’s wages continue to rise throughout their working lives, while women’s rise less rapidly and the gap begins to widen. when they have children, 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 is something affinity to pay parents more for the work they are doing. Women in the workplace face sexism, and mothers especially because of all the caregiving responsibilities they have, making 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 the main breadwinner in their families, and black mothers are twice as likely as white mothers to be the main breadwinner in their families, according to the Center for American Progress.
The lack of supporting infrastructure also pushes women out of the workforce and contributes to the gender and racial pay gap. The United States does not have a national paid leave policy, and many women work in jobs that lack this benefit. “There are studies that show that when women are offered paid leave, they are more likely to return to work,” says Tucker. “There is also a lack of affordable childcare, forcing mothers to stay home to care for their children rather than go back to work. We are still in a child care crisis. Compared to February 2020, we have lost one in 12 child care workers,” says Tucker. “Do women have childcare options, and if so, is it affordable?”
When it comes to what companies can do to close the gap, Tucker believes it should be a multi-pronged approach, with pay transparency, creating pay bands and banning asking about salary history as steps in the right direction. “Being able to see what your peers are making and basing your salary on that can help, as can setting salary bands, where there’s a set range for a specific job title and years of experience,” says Tucker. “We see much smaller pay gaps between men and women in union jobs where there are some of those pay bands. Also banning employers from asking for salary history is another good thing, because if you were underpaid at your previous job and faced sexism or racism, that shouldn’t be related to what you’re earning at your next job.”
Finally, legislation can be put in place. “There is equal pay legislation that could be passed at the state and federal level,” says Tucker. “The Paycheck Fairness Act he comes and dies every year in Congress. But unless we address the child care crisis we have, where parents are paying an arm and a leg for care while we underpay child care workers who earn an average of $12 an hour, the model commercial does not work. We need to invest in child care as a public good, pay child care workers living wages, and provide universal pre-K and subsidies to make child care 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.”