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Debra L. Ness

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Beyond Mother's Day: Continuing the Commitment to Working Mothers and Families

Posted: 05/13/2012 7:00 pm

As families throughout the country were making their Mother's Day plans, some lawmakers were similarly focused on America's women. But unlike the short-lived events of Mother's Day weekend, their attention was on the kind of support and family-friendly policies mothers and working families need year-round. We applaud the lawmakers who took action, and urge their colleagues to join them in advancing the kinds of meaningful paid leave, paid sick days, anti-discrimination and fair pay policies the nation urgently needs.

The sad truth is that becoming a mother in this country too often means the loss of a job and/or the beginning of financial hardship. That's because women still suffer from rampant pregnancy and wage discrimination and enormous challenges that result from our failure to adopt 21st century workplace policies. And it's not just women who suffer. All working families pay a price when women are without fundamental equality in the workplace.

Women are nearly half the workforce and the primary caregivers and sole or co-breadwinners in the majority of families today. So when women are fired, forced out of their jobs and denied employment and promotion opportunities just because they become pregnant, families' financial stability suffers -- as does our productivity and our economy. Yet, despite legal protections for pregnant women having been in place for nearly 35 years, pregnancy discrimination is alive and well.

That's why we were so pleased that the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act -- an effort to stem rising pregnancy discrimination -- was introduced in the House of Representatives. We applaud its sponsors. The bill would put in place the same workplace protections for women with pregnancy-related limitations as the protections already in place for similarly abled workers, and it would help ensure employers provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant women who want to continue in their jobs. It is a badly needed measure that would promote the kind of equality working women need and deserve.

Sadly, discrimination against women in the workplace doesn't stop there. Wage discrimination is another unacceptable reality in this country -- and it has a terrible impact on the economic security of families. The median yearly pay for a woman working full time is $10,784 less than a man's in the United States. For working mothers, that means years' worth of basic necessities for their families -- such as groceries, rent, health insurance premiums, gas and more -- lost each year.

Here, too, there's a legislative solution. The Paycheck Fairness Act would close loopholes in existing laws, protect women from wage discrimination and promote basic fairness in our workplaces. Given the increasing importance of women's wages to families and our economy, Congress must recognize what is at stake and prioritize its passage.

But addressing discrimination alone will not eliminate the challenges working mothers and families face. Every day, workers struggle to provide for their families while meeting their responsibilities at work because the nation lacks family friendly workplace policies like paid sick days. More than 44 million workers in the United States don't have the right to earn a single paid day off to recover from illness or care for a sick child. The consequences for mothers and families can be devastating.

That's why it was great that a recent Senate hearing focused on the Rebuild America Act. The bill is a powerful legislative package that includes a national paid sick days standard as defined by the Healthy Families Act. Held just in time for Mother's Day, the hearing addressed the real challenges working people face in managing the dual demands of work and family. It started an important conversation among lawmakers that must continue.

Still, not all solutions have to be at the federal level. The National Partnership just released a new state-by-state analysis that shows how few states have policies that support working people when a new child arrives. While California and Connecticut fared well in the report, it found that most states are doing very little to support new parents and 18 states don't have a single supportive policy in place that expands upon minimal federal standards. There is much more states can and should be doing to help working mothers and families, even as the findings underscore how badly we need federal solutions.

It was encouraging to see some enlightened members of Congress focus on these issues as Mother's Day approached, but it was only a start. The nation needs real progress and we need it now. It's time for lawmakers to prioritize and pass the kind of anti-discrimination protections and family friendly policies working families need. Doing so would be a Mother's Day gift that makes a difference all year long, and much-needed evidence that our nation truly values families.

 
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