Mother's Day is big business. Over $14 billion was spent in the U.S. in 2010 on Mother's Day celebrations, including flowers, candy, meals and other gifts. Based on industry forecasts, this year the total should be even higher. Every mother I know loves the special recognition, including me. I appreciate that my husband and daughters let me sleep in a little longer, bring coffee and newspapers to my bed when I finally decide to open my eyes, walk the dog, prepare a luxurious breakfast and clean up afterwards. All of this is usually accompanied by some lovely flowers, hand-made cards,and special "whatever you want to do, Mom" plans. What's not to like?
It's a sweet ritual, and one that is repeated in households throughout the country on Mother's Day, as it has every year since 1908. While most women feel grateful for the flowers, cards and mini-vacations from household chores -- albeit short-lived -- that this occasion offers, countless more are wondering why they aren't getting the one gift that they want and need more than any other: a job.
It is a paradox, and a national travesty. On this day as we honor women around the country, many of us seem oblivious to the hard facts on women and work.
A recent report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that of the 1.3 million jobs created in the last 12 months, some 90 percent have gone to men. Women have gained just 149,000 jobs. What's more, while you might expect men to recover more jobs since more men were put out of work, there are some signs that things have gotten worse for women, with no signs of improvement. Looking at the data since the end of the recession in July 2009, men have gained 600,000 jobs while women have lost 300,000 jobs.
To compound the problem even more, women continue to be penalized for being mothers, or potential mothers. As unemployed women look for work, experts say that cultural biases may hinder their search. While anti-discrimination laws prohibit the practice, some employers may believe that male workers will put in longer hours or be more dedicated to their jobs simply because they are not the ones who are, or will be, mothers.
According to a recent ABC News report, an out-of-work man may benefit from an employer's sympathetic assumption that he's the family breadwinner, even though American families have come to depend on women's income far more than ever before. Myra Strober, a professor of education and economics at Stanford University said:
Wives now contribute roughly 30 percent of a married couple's earnings, and nearly a quarter of children under 18 live in single-mother households. There's a lot of evidence that historically when jobs are scarce, employers favor men because they feel that it's up to men to earn a family wage and support their families. That is still true, but it's also true that women need to support their families.
When I started this conversation on Facebook, one friend wondered why men aren't just as outraged about the lack of jobs that offer women equal pay. She asked this question:
If women still earn only 75-77 cents on the dollar to a similarly qualified man, and increasing numbers of women are their household's sole breadwinner, why aren't their male partners more outraged? Seems to me if my partner/spouse wasn't earning his fair share and my family was directly impacted, I'd be seriously angry.
Companies are phasing out retraining programs, as is the government. Women in California have been especially hard-hit due to the severe financial difficulties the state has experienced in recent years. And the older the woman is, the harder it can be to secure an interview, especially if she is emerging from a sabbatical she took to raise her children for a few years. Younger women look around, wondering if things will improve by the time they are ready to start families, and are filled with doubt.
A few weeks ago, I wrote an article -- "Derailed by the 'Mommy Track'? 10 Tips to Get Back to Work" -- that generated a lot of discussion here on The Huffington Post and in other media. The story was picked up by The New York Times, and on Tuesday, May 10 I'll be on CBS' "The Early Show" talking about ways that women can get back into the workforce after having been out for an extended period of time. Women, especially those who are over 50, are having their self-esteem and confidence taken away, causing them to retreat into the background, convinced that their days of enjoying meaningful work are over.
D.A. Wolf, a writer who commented on the article, summed up the predicament that many women with children find themselves in:
I recognize myself in much of what you write, Barbara. Convinced I could do it all and have it all -- eventually -- and marrying later and having children later. Where our stories part ways is that my "mommy track" was about continuing to work full-time, but in positions that were lower level and when possible, from a home office. That "allowed" me to be full-time mom and full-time employee, but less visibly, rarely acquiring new skills, and perpetually exhausted. Might I add that for women who divorce in this scenario, depending upon the state they live in, it works against them financially. While there are advantages to establishing a career before children (the flexibility and experience to get those consulting gigs or projects), there is also a downside. By the time the 20 years of parenting is over, age discrimination smacks us right in the face. There is also the reality -- for many of us -- of at least a few health constraints, which we don't even imagine when we're in our 30s or early 40s. Entrepreneurship is a possible solution, but begs the issue of affording health care, disability and life insurance. Your article and suggestions are very much on point, but whether we've "mommy tracked" or simply worn ourselves down trying to do it all, we face enormous hurtles. Somehow, we need to reinvent a more fluid employment environment -- one that offers both men and women better options for parental participation.
What can we do?
Here's one thought: Become a grassroots activist. Start by sharing this, and similar articles, with other women and men, with government leaders and corporate heads, to make sure they understand how dire and utterly unjust this situation is. Women should not be penalized for taking sabbaticals to care for children, or an ill spouse or parent. Women should not be penalized simply because they are women and have children, or might have children in the future, or might never have children. Women should not be penalized because they take their parenting responsibilities seriously and are grappling with the challenge of finding a balance between work and family. And certainly, women should not be penalized because they are getting older. Get mad, and make others get mad right along with you.
Less than 17 percent of global news focuses on women's issues. Together, we can make "women's right to work" the number-one news story of the year. That would be the most powerful Mother's Day gift of all.
2011 New York City Marathon Weekly Training Countdown
I'm running in the NYC Marathon in November to celebrate my 55th birthday and raise money for the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, in memory of a friend who succumbed to the disease last year. Here's an update on my training schedule:
Every other week I'll be adding another mile or so to the long run (keeping the two short runs the same distance), and I will be adding "speed work" to my training. Next week, I'll run 10.5 miles! Stay tuned.
For more information on the Jeff Galloway Run/Walk/Run Method, check out his website, www.jeffgalloway.com.
Staying connected is a powerful tool. "Friend" me on Facebook and follow me on Twitter (BGrufferman). For more information about "The Best of Everything After 50: The Experts' Guide to Style, Sex, Health, Money and More," please visit my website, www.bestofeverythingafter50.com.
Follow Barbara Hannah Grufferman on Twitter: www.twitter.com/BGrufferman