04/08/2014 11:58 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Mothers Make 71 Cents on a Man's Dollar -- Time to Celebrate?

By Leigh Edwards

Today is Equal Pay Day, a symbolic day that illustrates how far into the year a woman must work to earn the same amount made by a man in the previous year. This Saturday, student advocates from Mount Holyoke College and other schools in the Pioneer Valley will be talking with attendees of Arts Night Out in Northampton, Massachusetts, about Equal Pay Day and the social issues that inhibit women from being paid equally to their male counterparts. They will be dressed in Americana attire and will hand out balloons and distribute flyers that highlight the disparities that unequal pay perpetuates. MotherWoman, a Western Massachusetts non-profit that works to support mothers and their families, through advocating for public policy, is sponsoring this Equal Pay Day event, while working alongside students in the Pioneer Valley to raise awareness about this pressing issue.

In 1963, John F. Kennedy passed the "Equal Pay Act," which aimed to end any and all wage discrimination based on a person's gender, and ultimately promoted equal pay for workers, male and female. Since 1963, the gender wage gap has improved, but has yet to be eradicated entirely.

Women's median full-time earnings are 77% of a man's median full-time earnings; Black women's earnings are 64%; and Latinas' earnings are 54%. These disparities in median full-time earnings for women stem from the fact that women are discriminated against, often have to work less due to family responsibilities and are pigeonholed into the low-wage job sector. On average, women will lose $434,000 during their lifetime due to the wage-gap. This wage-loss could feed a family of four for 37 years, purchase 14 new cars or could buy two homes.

Women in the United States are burdened with the majority of family responsibilities, while in countries that promote progressive, family-oriented social policies, like paid maternity/paternity leave, flex time and job protection, the wage gap is strikingly lower. Mothers, specifically single mothers of color, are more likely to experience poverty than any other demographic, and this is likely because they are the demographic group that is least supported by policies within the United States. Poverty is known to have detrimental effects on children, as they are more likely to experience malnutrition, will be exposed to a lower-quality education and are more likely than a child who doesn't grow up in poverty, to experience poverty themselves. The lack of affordable daycare/assistance, no mandatory maternity leave/paid maternity leave and no option for paternity leave often leave women fending for themselves, and their children.

In the U.S., motherhood is treated as a hobby and leaves no safety net for women once they have children. It's scary to know that if I ever decide to become a mother, through whatever means, there will be no safety net to help protect my family. If policies were in place that allowed women more options and flexibility for their families, such as affordable or universal childcare, and paid maternity/paternity leave, the wage gap would decrease.

The low-wage job sector is an integral part of our functioning economy, and two-thirds of this low-wage sector is comprised of women workers. These positions are drastically underpaid, and according to The Center for American Progress, 27% of the gender wage gap can be attributed to this occupational segregation and inadequate compensation. The Council of Economic Advisors argues that if the minimum wage were raised to a living wage, this part of the gender wage gap would decrease by nearly 5%.

According to the Center for American Progress, increasing the minimum wage to just $10.10 per hour would affect 58.6% percent of Massachusetts women. That figure accounts for almost 301,000 women, many of whom are single mothers supporting their families.

Shannon Koehn, MotherWoman's Executive Director stated, "Perhaps we will see the day when womanhood and motherhood will no longer hinder a woman's financial progress. This is why MotherWoman is in full support of social policies like the Living Wage and Earned Paid Sick Time legislation in Massachusetts, as well as paid maternity and paternity leave." Both the Living Wage and Earned Paid Sick Time legislation will be on the ballot for Massachussetts voters to weigh in on in November 2014.

MotherWoman is spearheading the Equal Pay Day event in Northampton, on April 11, 2014. This event will aim to educate the public on myths about the wage gap, and highlight that policies like paycheck fairness, living wage and earned paid sick time, have a direct impact on decreasing the wage gap.

We want to hear what you think! Take the Equal Pay Day survey and be entered to win a copy of The Good Mother Myth: Redefining Motherhood to Fit Reality. Click here to take the survey: Equal Pay Day survey.

MotherWoman serves mothers and families through support groups, and training with community leaders and professionals to facilitate groups for mothers across the region. MotherWoman trains medical, mental health and social service professionals about postpartum depression and anxiety. They have developed and continue to host county-based multi-disciplinary coalitions in implementing their nationally recognized Community-based Perinatal Support Model. MotherWoman engages mothers, fathers and caregivers in taking action on policies that impact families.

Leigh Edwards is a senior at Mount Holyoke College, majoring in English and Global Business. She is the co-president of Mount Holyoke's Roosevelt Institute Campus Network Chapter, and is a Harriet Newhall Fellow at Mount Holyoke's Office of Admission. Leigh is MotherWoman's Policy and Advocacy Intern, and is focusing her research on the gender wage gap, and family policies.

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