On Mother’s Day in 2015, so many working mothers are struggling to support themselves and their families. And unfortunately they can find very little support in federal legislation. Today there are only three federal laws that protect mothers in the workforce: the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, which provides 12 weeks of unpaid job protected leave to new or expectant parents, and a provision of the 2010 health care reform that expands the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act to protect mothers who are breastfeeding in the workplace.
And these laws arent even protecting all working mothers. For instance, FMLA is job protected family leave that is only available to workers who met certain criteria. Workers must have worked for their employer for at least 12 months; performed at least 1,250 hours of service for the employer during the 12 month period immediately preceding the leave; and worked at a location where the employer has at least 50 employees within 75 miles. And, even more important, is this leave is UNPAID. So if a worker cannot afford to take time off without pay, they simply cannot take FMLA without facing serious financial consequences.
The United States stands with only one other country in the world– Papua New Guineathat does not have a law that requires PAID family leave for new mothers and other caregivers. In addition, the US lags behind most countries in regard to other workplace protections for parents. The US does not have paid sick days lawforcing working mothers to work sick or come to work while their child is sick. In fact a mother can be fired for calling out of work if she or her child is sick. Working mothers also have no right to schedule controlmeaning they are at the mercy of their employer to schedule their work shifts in ways that allow them to try to manage their family demands. Childcare continues to be unaffordable and inaccessible to many mothers. And of course, working mothers continue to face a pay gap in the workplace. Importantly since women are now breadwinners for 40% of US families with children under the age of 18, this is not just a working mother issue, this is a working families crisis. While a handful of states have passed laws that provide paid leave, paid sick days and/or schedule control, the vast majority of working mothers are left without any protections.
Not surprisingly then, on this Mothers Day, working mothers economic insecurity results, in part, from a lack of strong public policies that support working families. Working mothers are forced to address the conflicts of work and family labor on their own– often having to make hard and sometimes life-threatening choices. And for single mothers, their situation is significantly worse. In 2013 the poverty rate for female-headed families with children was 39.6 percent, compared to 19.7 percent for male-headed families with children, and 7.6 percent for families with children headed by a married couple. In fact, nearly 522,000 single women with children (12.0 percent) who worked full time, year round in 2013 lived in poverty. What is perhaps even more troubling is that years out of the recession single working mothers are actually MORE economically insecure. Between 2007 and 2012, the share of female-headed working families that are low-income increased from 54 percent to 58 percent, according to a Population Reference Bureau (PRB) analysis of data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. Quite simply the individualistic approach to addressing work and family is just not working.
So on this Mothers Day perhaps it is finally the time for “ Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves” for far too long to have to have workplace protections and public policies that can actually support the economic security of mothers and their families.