Sunday marks our second pandemic Mother’s Day, and more than a year of financial, health, and familial chaos for mothers across the country. In the past year alone, the nation’s nearly 35 million mothers of children under the age of 18 provided more than 57 million hours of unpaid care, which includes taking care of children and other household tasks. While all parents increased their caregiving during the pandemic as a result of child care and school closures, mothers have provided more than twice the amount of hours that fathers have provided during the pandemic.
It’s clear that the pandemic has stretched many of us thin, but perhaps the most taxed are mothers – especially mothers of color – who are forced to choose between caring for their families and providing financially for their households There’s also the double-bind of mothers who are attempting to do both as key breadwinners for their families, including 4 in 5 Black mothers, 2 in 3 Native American mothers, half of Latina mothers and nearly half of AAPI mothers. However, COVID-19 has stopped them in their tracks – Pew reports that more than 2 million jobs were lost just six months into the pandemic by mothers of young children.
While the number of hours of unpaid caregiving that mothers have provided over the past year is astounding, it would be a disservice to them not to consider the value of that care. If mothers were paid the minimum wage for their unpaid caregiving, they would have earned $416 billion in the last year. Let’s be honest though: the minimum wage has not been adequate to support hardworking families because it hasn’t kept up with inflation and because it doesn’t reflect the dignity of work. If mothers were paid $12 an hour – the median wage of a domestic worker in the United States – for their unpaid caregiving, mothers would have earned nearly $690 billion in the past year. If mothers were paid at a full $15 an hour, the fair rate at which the Raise the Wage Act would raise the federal minimum wage to by 2025, mothers would have earned more than $860 billion in the last year. Pushed out of the workforce by caregiving demands, mothers aren’t working less at all – they’re working round the clock without compensation. Put in these terms, undervaluing caregiving in the United States doesn’t work for mothers, it doesn’t work for their families, and it doesn’t work for our nation’s economy.
Care needs have increased during the pandemic, but mothers shouldn’t have to suffer for it. Policies like paid family and medical leave and the Child Care for Working Families Act would create programs and protections to support caregiving mothers financially, supplement child care and caregiving needs and allow mothers to get back into and stay attached to the workforce. And importantly, these policies would make it easier for spouses and partners to provide care as well as mothers. Policymakers need to prioritize our nation’s care infrastructure to support mothers because care can’t wait. We owe it to our mothers – particularly essential workers, breadwinning mothers and mothers of color – to create work and family policies that support their roles as caregivers and workers. This Mother’s Day, let’s do more than just bring our mothers breakfast in bed. Let’s support our nation’s caregiving mothers with bold policies that reflect our appreciation for and the value of their work in the workplace and at home.
Happy Mother’s Day!