05/09/2012 11:19 am ET Updated Jul 08, 2012

Mommy Needs a Job

We are all fast-approaching that very special day in May when we take time to honor the women who have brought us into this life. As we prepare for Mother's Day this year, busy with our brunch reservations and floral orders, I'd like to take a moment to discuss what many Chicago moms truly need this May: economic security.

I was reminded of this recently when I traveled to India to celebrate my mother's 80th birthday. Over 100 people attended the event to celebrate my mom's legacy and the influence she's had on their lives. As I sat and listened to the stories about my mother, I was reminded about her influence on my own economic security. My mother often spoke to my sister and I about the importance of education and career opportunities that would help us gain security for our future families.

Just like mine, moms today want better opportunities and clear pathways out of poverty for their daughters. Young girls need to be empowered and exposed to industries where they are underrepresented, such as STEM (sciences, technology, engineering and math). As a trained engineer, I have experienced the opened doors that coincide with training in these sectors -- and I am not alone. According to a report from the U.S. Department of Commerce, Economics and Statistics Administration, women with STEM jobs earn 33 percent more than women in non-STEM jobs. Imagine the type of health care, food and education Mom could provide for her family with these extra funds.

Another "gift" Mom really wants this May is equitable pay, and I can see why. There are approximately 612,607 female-headed households in Illinois and 28.5 percent or 174,593 are living well-below the poverty line. A recent report commissioned by the Chicago Foundation for Women and conducted by Voices for Illinois Children informs us the situation is worsening: Unemployment rates for single moms increased from nine percent in 2007 to 14 percent in 2009.

Nearly 50 years ago, President John F. Kennedy passed the Equal Pay Act which aimed to end gender wage disparities. At that time, women earned 59 cents for every dollar a man made. In 2010, women earned 77 cents for every dollar earned by men, a 23 percent gap. For women of color, the numbers are worse: African-American women earned 64 cents and Latina women earned 48 cents to every dollar a white man received.

At this pace, women will achieve pay equity in the year 2101.

Contrary to what some might suggest, the gender wage gap occurs not because women chose to work less, and certainly not because women don't care about money as much as men. It occurs because women are hired at a lower rate and receive smaller pay increases once a job is secured.

According to the National Partnership for Women & Families, if the gender wage gap was eliminated, a working woman in Illinois would have enough money for approximately:
  • 108 more weeks of food (2.1 years' worth);
  • Seven more months of mortgage and utilities payments;
  • 14 more months of rent;
  • 36 more months of family health insurance premiums (three years' worth);
  • 3,148 additional gallons of gas.

We also know that caring for children is a full-time job in and of itself. Keeping that in mind, another great gift for Mom this May is paid sick leave.

No one should have to choose between taking care of their families and getting paid. If Mom or her child gets sick, she needs to take off of work to provide medical care. For many women, this decision comes with a heavy burden. The National Partnership for Women & Families also says that "Nearly four in ten private-sector workers -- and 81 percent of low-wage workers -- don't have a single paid sick day to recover from common, short-term illnesses." In Illinois, more than 2.1 million workers -- about 45 percent of the state's private-sector workforce -- are not able to take a paid sick day when they are ill. It is obvious to me, and hopefully you, that the Illinois legislature should move quickly to pass the Healthy Workplace Act, which would allow employees to earn paid sick days per year and provide leave for illness or the illness of an employee's family member.

For over 100 years, Americans have used Mother's Day to honor mothers for their love, commitment and dedication to their families. This Mother's Day, I encourage you to truly celebrate mothers everywhere by advancing policy and programs that promote their lasting economic security and allow their families to thrive.