A woman can't open her mouth these days about motherhood issues without getting called cutely naïve or politically incorrect. It drives me nuts. The subtle and not-so-subtle barbs start flying, "I have a halo because I'm a full-time parent." Or, "I'm the best mom because I bring home the money that buys the food." The truth of the matter is the national dialogue we so desperately need doesn't revolve around who's a better mother, or who "should" be doing what.
Let's get over it already. The blame game. The one upmanship. It's all a red herring. Let's give each other the benefit of the doubt: Each and every one of us does what we have to do to support and raise our families the best we can. The much needed national conversation about what it's going to take to make a family-friendly America shouldn't go anywhere near the quicksand of judgmentalism we've been stuck in for way too long.
Our national conversation as it relates to families must be about facts, needs, and solutions. Solutions. Should I spell it out? S-O-L-U-T-I-O-N-S. Long overdue if you ask me.
Here's the lay of the land we're dealing with: A full quarter of families with children under six live in poverty, at least 9 million children don't have any health care, and far too many parents can't afford to stay home from work when their children get sick. One shocker: Having a baby in our country is a leading cause of poverty spells a time when income drops below what's needed to meet basic needs.
Both full-time parents and employed parents are struggling (Families with a full-time parent are seven times as likely to live in poverty than those with two employed parents). Let me make this clear. Families. Are. Struggling. In. Our. Country.
Sure some parents are able to choose to have a parent at home full-time. But with the federal minimum wage stuck at $5.15 per hour (the average minimum wage worker isn't a teenager looking for pocket change, but an adult who brings home 54% of his or her family's weekly earnings), many don't have the luxury of ruminating about whether they should be a full-time parent vs. employed.
The fact of the matter is 72% of mothers are in the labor forceand women (82% of whom have children) now make up 46% of the entire labor force. Most families need two working parents to stay financially solvent these days. A study released in 2005 found that in order to maintain income levels, parents have to work 500 more hours per year than in 1979 just to keep up.
On top of all of this there is the motherhood wage penalty and hiring bias. One study found women without children make 90 cents to a man's dollar, those with children make 73 cents to a man's dollar, and single moms make 56 to 66 cents to the dollar. Another study recently found that given equal resumes, moms are 44% less likely to be hired than women without children, and are given, on average, $11,000 lower starting salaries. There is a clear and present bias against employed mothers in America, and this hurts mothers and their families by causing more people to live in poverty.
There is a clear path to fix this problem. Countries with family-friendly programs and policies generally don't have the same motherhood wage penalties as we do here. We can do better.
Yes, we need paid family leave (we are one of only 5 out of 168 countries that doesn't have paid leave for mothers, which by the way, has been shown to lessen infant mortality by 25%). Yes, we absolutely need to fix our broken health care system for which we spend more per capita than any other country in the world, yet rank in at a low 37th for the mortality rate of children under five. Yes, we need flexible work options for those parents in the labor force so people don't have to choose between things like being able to care for their sick child or being able to afford a roof over their child's head.
There are off-the-shelf solutions, and policy prescriptions, ready to go that will solve many of our problems and bring us up to par with most other industrialized nations. It's time to dust them off. These solutions are widely known, just not acted on. Yet. Get involved. Be a voice for change and solutions. Visit www.MomsRising.org.