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Linda Hallman Headshot

Don't Pay Me Less Just Because I'm a Mom

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#MomsEqualPay Day is this week: The day that marks how far into 2014 moms have to work to earn what dads earned in 2013. And, in a twisted coincidence, #MomsEqualPay Day falls just a few days before Father's Day.

Here's a showstopper: Working mothers typically are paid just 69 cents for every dollar that working fathers are paid.

This wage discrimination affects most women. After all, more than 80 percent of women have children by the time they're 44 years old, and everyone has, at some point, had a mother.

Too many moms are working hard, playing by the rules, and still struggling. Betty a MomsRising member from Sarasota, Florida, shared, "I raised four boys without their father's help and needed to work two or three jobs to come close to making ends meet. The difference in pay scale for men and women made this necessary."

American families today need mothers' paychecks to put food on the table. Yet too often mothers' paychecks don't add up to what families need -- and the reason has much more to do with discrimination than with mothers' "choices," as some say when they try to sweep this issue under the carpet.

It's time to stop blaming mothers and put an end to the motherhood penalty.

Maternal status, also known as being a mother, is now a greater predictor of wage and hiring discrimination than gender. On average, mothers are paid less than non-moms, and both groups are paid less than men are paid.

That's why groups like AAUW and MomsRising.org are drawing attention to the fact that it takes working moms almost an extra six months -- until mid-June -- to catch up to working fathers' earnings from the previous year.

Absurd!

The harmful effects of inequity have grown as more women have entered the workforce than ever before and also as more families are relying on mothers' earnings than ever before. In fact, since 1963, U.S. women's labor force participation is up by 53 percent. Labor participation by mothers has grown by 30 percent in the last 50 years.

In addition, mothers today are the sole or primary earners in four in 10 households with children, a figure that has quadrupled since 1960. And yet women, and especially mothers, still receive paychecks out of the Mad Men era.

Paying women fairly would offer them and their families the economic security they so desperately need -- and would boost our economy. This would not be a small boost: The Institute for Women's Policy Research found that the U.S. gross domestic product would grow by 3 percent if women were paid as much as men are paid.

In short, there has been an extraordinary but quiet evolution of our workforce. For the first time in history, women make up 50 percent of the labor force. Yet our workplace policies and practices haven't caught up to that reality, which harms our families, our businesses, and our economy.

For example, supporting children on $7.25 an hour, which is the current federal minimum wage, is virtually impossible. Almost one-third of minimum wage workers have children. Meanwhile, and not surprisingly considering our stagnant federal minimum wage, the child poverty rate is on the rise. In 2011, nearly half of children lived in families with incomes below 200 percent of the federal poverty line. It's no wonder that so many families struggle to put food on the table.

The statistics don't lie: Raising mothers' wages would have life-changing -- even life-saving -- effects for families and would boost our economy.

Our economy is, after all, based on consumer spending, and when moms don't have funds to spend in local stores we all lose out.

AnnMarie Duchon, a MomsRising member, calculated out her lost wages due to pay discrimination and had this to say: "Recently, my husband's teaching job was threatened due to budget cuts. This situation made me think about what those lost wages were costing my family. I added those lost wages up and calculated that my family had lost over $12,000 in income. My husband and I are both first-generation college graduates with crushing student loan debt. On paper, it looks like we are doing well, but in reality, money is tight. We pay as much on our student loan payments each month as we do for our mortgage. Our daughter, Gracie, is in full-time day care because neither of us can afford not to work. Twelve thousand dollars in lost wages accounts for a year's worth of child care or 10 months' worth of mortgage or student loan payments. All expenses we struggle to pay for."

Unfortunately, some folks are more interested in blaming mothers for the pay gap than in paying them fairly, saying that moms aren't negotiating enough, aren't equally qualified, or other excuses. The motherhood penalty cannot be solved simply by better negotiation skills, as some are so fond of saying.

There is very real wage and hiring discrimination going on here. Studies using equivalent résumés found that moms were hired 80 percent less often than women without children and were offered starting salaries an average of $11,000 lower than those paid to non-moms. Dads with equal résumés were offered $6,000 more than non-dads. The antiquated idea that only men need paychecks large enough to support their families is alive and well, and it's keeping families poor and hungry.

Additionally, studies show that equally qualified candidates who identified as mothers were perceived to be less competent, less promotable, and less likely to be recommended for management, despite having the same credentials as non-mothers. It's no wonder that some women hide their status as mothers during job interviews.

The gender pay gap is already in place even before women become mothers. AAUW research controlled for factors known to affect earnings, such as education, parenthood, and hours worked, and found that college-educated women still earn 7 percent less than their male peers just one year out of school -- even when they have the same major and occupation. And the gap only widens over time.

Wage discrimination against mothers and against all women needs to stop, and we need family economic security policies to fully close the gap. Families need access to paid family leave, paid sick days, and affordable child care. We cannot close the gaps between moms and women without children, and between women and men overall, without these policies. Of course, we also need pay transparency legislation like the Paycheck Fairness Act so that apples-to-apples comparisons of pay can be made and outright discrimination can be stopped in its tracks.

On this day, #MomsEqualPay Day, when mothers' earnings are just finally catching up to fathers' from 2013, we'd like to declare a moratorium on blaming mothers (and kids!) for this pay gap. Instead, let's recognize that discrimination holds back many mothers, their families, and our economy. It's time to stamp out discrimination against moms.

After all, did your mother deserve to be discriminated against for having you? We don't think so.

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ABOUT THE AUTHORS:

Linda D. Hallman, CAE, is executive director and chief executive officer of the American Association of University Women (AAUW). AAUW has been empowering women as individuals and as a community since 1881.

Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, is is executive director and chief executive officer of MomsRising.org. MomsRising is a million member organization working to increase family economic security, decrease discrimination against women and moms, and to build a nation where both businesses and families can thrive.

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