Every Washington legislator has a mom — so why don’t more of them care about “moms”?

Photo: Sean Dreilinger/Flickr Creative Commons

Photo: Sean Dreilinger/Flickr Creative Commons

Moms just can’t get a break these days. Data released by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, show that having children is one of the worst career moves a woman could make. According to their research, mothers in Washington are 44% less likely to be hired than non-mothers for the same job, and are paid less than non-mothers, averaging 78 cents to a man’s dollar.

Women of color and single mothers are more likely to experience this motherhood penalty. A PEW report found that 40% of all households with children under the age of 18 included mothers who were either the sole or primary source of income for the family. The majority (63%) of these women were single mothers and were more likely to be black or Hispanic and less likely to have a college degree.

Pay inequities, coupled with a lack of “parent-friendly” benefits, including paid family leave and paid sick leave; contribute to significant barriers to mothers remaining in the workforce. Some mothers may feel forced to reduce their hours or opt out of the labor force altogether to take care of a new child, but not all women have that choice.

Seattle claimed a huge victory when Mayor Murray announced that Seattle city employees will receive four weeks of paid parental leave under a new plan. The King County Council recently established a new policy that working parents employed by King County will receive up to 12 weeks in paid parental leave after a birth, adoption, or new placement of a foster child.

Four cities (Seattle, San Francisco, Washington D.C.,  Chicago, and Austin, TX) provide paid parental leave – and for good reasons. Research shows “parent-friendly” laws actually increase women’s labor market attachment, promote economic growth and reduce spending on public programs, such as food stamps. However, access to these benefits depends on your occupation and geographic location.

Women don’t grow up dreaming of all the struggles they will face should they decide to become mothers.  And no one can prepare for having to choose between career and family. Jobs are the core of the American economy and should allow workers to meet their individual and family needs. To reverse these disparities we need to enact new family-friendly policies and strengthen existing ones.

While some cities and states have stepped up to make advances in leveling the playing field, a majority of women are still facing impossible decisions. In Washington, efforts to ensure statewide paid sick and safe leave and provide paid parental leave have been stalled by our state legislators, despite the progress in our cities. Let’s hope our elected leaders step up to do the right thing for women, mothers and families instead of settling for “good enough.”

By Janna Higgins, Graduate Policy Intern

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