Confession: I grew up believing that women had mostly achieved equality in the workplace and the world.
But when my first child was born, I quickly learned that I was mistaken. My son was absolutely amazing, and he was also born with an immune system deficiency. I had to leave my full-time job.
Since my mom was single for much of my childhood, I was haunted by the "what ifs." What if I didn't have a husband with an income and job-based healthcare? My situation could've been a disaster. My son is now healthy, as is my daughter. But not everyone is so lucky.
For too many, motherhood is a barrier to equality, to pay, and to economic security.
That's why I'm thrilled that today President Obama signed equal pay executive orders that help fight wage discrimination for employees of federal contractors, on this day, Equal Pay Day.
Equal Pay Day is the date that marks the approximate extra time the average U.S. woman would need to work in order to earn as much as the average man did in the prior year, it's important to stop and take a look at exactly who is impacted the most by unequal pay -- and how this discrimination ripples beyond paychecks.
Everyday at MomsRising we hear stories from the frontlines of motherhood. For example, Christina shared: "Searching for an apartment brought me face to face with discrimination. Landlords repeatedly hung up on me when I mentioned my toddler."
And, Cynthia shared: "I worked for an advertising firm. At one event it was obvious just how many women worked for the ED. I asked him why. He told me, 'I can pay them less.' I was 23 and shocked. I hadn't yet learned I was less valuable than a man."
Barbara came forward to share: "I didn't have paid sick days so I had to postpone taking my kids to the doctor. One time, this resulted in my daughter having a serious untreated ear infection that harmed her hearing." (Note: Over 160 other countries have a guaranteed minimum number of paid sick days, but the U.S. isn't one of them yet.)
The drumbeat of stories builds. Sonya had to go back to work just one week after her first was born, and only four days after her second. She said: "I wanted one-on-one time with my babies, but I didn't have any leave." (It should be noted that 177 other countries have paid family leave after a newborn arrives, but the U.S. isn't one of them. Yet.)
Our stories are heartbreaking and point to issues our nation must address.
Like this one that Christina shared: "I'm frustrated that our childcare costs more than our mortgage AND our car payments COMBINED." (Note that childcare now costs more than college in most states in our nation).
These stories aren't isolated incidents.
Eighty one percent of women in the U.S. have children by the time they're 44 years old.
And all are facing a Maternal Wall. So, what does this Wall look like? Well, women without children make 90 cents to a man's dollar, moms make only 73 cents, single moms make about 60 cents to a man's dollar, Black women make just 64 cents, and Latinas make just 55 cents to a man's dollar.
Motherhood is now a greater predictor of wage discrimination than gender.
We can do better.
Solutions are possible.
Studies show that many countries with family economic security policies in place like access to affordable childcare, family leave, paid sick days, and healthcare have smaller wage gaps between women and men than we do.
Of course we also still need anti-discrimination legislation like the Paycheck Fairness Act, which is being voted on in the U.S. Senate tomorrow -- and like the executive orders on equal pay that President Barack Obama signed today. In short, the executive orders, which cover employees of government contractors, are crucial to efforts to address discrimination because they provide critical tools to encourage pay transparency so workers have better data to combat any potential pay discrimination or disparities they may not have otherwise been aware of. As Lilly Ledbetter's case proved, being able to ask about and disclose information about wages can help employees take steps to right wrongs -- and we must be able to do that without fear of retaliation.
The president's executive order action today is enormously significant. It will affect some 26 million workers. Now, it's time for Congress to act and ensure that the entire U.S. workforce are protected from retaliation for asking about their employers' pay practices or their own wages. They can do that by voting for the Paycheck Fairness Act this week. That bill, introduced by U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski, is up for a vote this week in the Senate.
We can raise all boats.
And while this may seem like a long to-do list, we know that we together have the power to get to these solutions. There are over 84 million moms in the U.S. Three-quarters of moms are in the labor force -- and moms are 40 percent of all breadwinners.
Together, our actions, our stories we share, and the contacts we make with leaders and the media add up.
Consider that New York City, Seattle, and more have passed earned sick days; that affordable childcare policy is finally moving forward; and that together we've protected Medicaid, which covers 1 in 3 children.
Millions of moms and dad and many elected leaders are coming together to create an America that treats families fairly. As Dawn shared: "When my child recently was approved for health insurance, I asked the agent. 'Do you mean if my son needs another surgery, it's covered?' 'Yes,' he said, 'We can't exclude conditions any longer due to the Affordable Care Act.'"
Wins are happening.
Fortunately what's good for moms is good for the economy: The majority of purchasing decisions in our consumer-fueled economy are made by women and moms. So if moms don't have money, our whole consumer-fueled economy suffers. In fact, not acting to right the wrong of wage discrimination is not only callous, not only devalues women's important contributions in workplaces, but also negatively impacts our overall economy.
And, of course, we all know when this many people are having the same problems at the same time; it's a national structural issue, not an epidemic of personal failings.
The signing of the equal pay executive orders by President Obama today were a great step forward. Let's keep the momentum going to ensure everyone is paid fairly and to end discrimination against women and moms.
It's time. In fact, it's past time. Moms, women, and people across the nation are so done with unequal pay.