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  1. Women’s History Month: Advancing Policies that Combat the Motherhood Penalty

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    Pictured above: Chief Policy Officer Emily Griffey with her child, Andy

    I’ve been a working mom for most of my career at Voices. Balancing motherhood and work has allowed me to experience firsthand the ups and downs of the early education system. Paying more than a mortgage for child care, searching for care when the pandemic closed our preschool, as well as getting to know and personally support the educators in the field have all strengthened my advocacy for early education.

    I also feel compelled to highlight a nuance of Women’s History Month—that while women are at a disadvantage in the workforce, mothers are at an even greater disadvantage. The fact that the gender pay gap becomes even greater for mothers in the workforce is called the “motherhood penalty” and has been cemented in sociology as a worldwide phenomenon. One analysis by The Century Foundation of mothers with children under five found that White mothers earned 10% less than childless counterparts, while Black mothers earned 20% less and Latina mothers earned 18% less.

    Being a mother is a hard job. Working to earn less money than your counterparts is even more difficult to stomach when your costs are even higher to care for your family.

    The pandemic has added additional complexity for working mothers. During the pandemic, working mothers were more likely to consider leaving the workforce than working fathers. Economists have also reported more than 1 million fewer women with school-age children in the workforce than prior to the pandemic. Opting out of the workforce has individual spillover effects: the time not spent participating in the workforce may reduce pay based on experience for mothers and can contribute to workforce shortages. Recently, I participated in an RVA Engage panel with Kartik Athreya from the Richmond Federal Reserve. He shared some interesting thoughts on women’s labor market participation, the economic forces at play, and the role that policy choices can play in helping mothers decide when there are economic trade-offs. Review a recording of the full panel and his resources here.

    To fully appreciate the role of women and mothers as leaders in our communities, we need policy changes that are family friendly and directed to mothers.

    State budget negotiators can take a step to address the motherhood penalty with the tax policy choices they make for the upcoming fiscal year.

    • Supporting the refundable Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) would target low-income taxpayers, who are more likely to be single-headed households. 72% of the filers who receive the EITC have children in their household.
    • Adjusting the one-time tax relief payment to include children, “the parent payment”, would cover the additional costs of raising children as data show mothers experience a wage penalty.
    • Make sure working families can access and afford child care by keeping higher income limits for eligibility for financial assistance and allowing mothers to receive assistance while looking for work.
    • Expanding paid family leave allows mothers to care for their new babies and sick children in the face of childcare disruptions without having to sacrifice their income and health insurance. Federal and state lawmakers have delayed policy changes to support paid leave which continues to stall mothers from returning to the workforce.

    I’m proud to be a working mother, but it doesn’t come without sacrifice. For the other working mothers who are serving their communities, leading businesses and caring for others, your contributions are invaluable. It’s past time for lawmakers to recognize and reward these contributions.