Working Moms Get 58 Cents for Every Dollar Dads Earn—and the Pandemic Has Made the Pay Gap Worse

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This year, Moms' Equal Pay Day lands on September 8, which signifies how far into the year moms must work to catch up to what dads earned last year alone. 

On average, moms working full-time earn just 74 cents for every dollar paid to a dad in the U.S., the National Women's Law Center reports — and the pay gap is even worse for many moms of color.

Black, Native American and Latina moms earn 52 cents, 49 cents and 47 cents, respectively, for every dollar paid to white dads. White, non-Hispanic moms were paid 71 cents, while Asian American moms were paid 90 cents for every dollar. 

Fatherhood boosted men's earnings, as dads working full-time made $65,000 in 2020, compared to $56,000 for men overall.

But women see a much smaller increase in their earnings as parents: Mothers working full-time made about $48,000 in 2020 compared to $45,000 for women overall, the NWLC reports.

These numbers, however, don't reflect the devastating impact the Covid-19 pandemic has had on mothers' advancement in the workforce, as many women lost jobs because of the public health crisis or were forced into part-time roles as schools went remote and child care options shrank. 

The disappearance of so many low-paid, part-time occupations caused the median earnings for all women working full-time to rise in 2020, the latest year for which data is available from the U.S. Census Bureau

But when comparing all moms and dads who worked in 2020, regardless of how many hours they worked, the average mom earned just 58 cents for every dollar a white, non-Hispanic dad earned, the NWLC reports.

Over time, the differential adds up to $17,000 in lost wages for mothers working full-time each year — a significant amount that could cover 12 months' worth of groceries and child care for a family. 

What's driving the wage gap

Being a mom remains an "even greater predictor" of wage discrimination in the U.S. than being a woman, Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, executive director and CEO of the social welfare organization MomsRising tells CNBC Make It. "It's outrageous," she says.

Working moms often face the "motherhood penalty," she points out, a well-documented phenomenon that results in mothers getting paid less, seeing less promotional opportunities among other harmful consequences due to sexist attitudes and conflicting cultural norms. 

Mothers are overwhelmingly granted lower starting salaries than childless women and fathers, past research from Cornell University and Harvard College has shown, while the opposite is true for fathers, who are offered a significantly higher starting salary than childless men. 

"Much of the wage gap mothers face is driven by deep discrimination based on the unpaid labor of caregiving," Rowe-Finkbeiner says. "In the U.S., we give no credence to the unpaid labor of caregiving, which should also be seen as work, and that is so deeply discounted that it carries into the paid labor force as well, and mothers' paid labor is discounted there, too."

How the Covid-19 pandemic could widen the gap

Such factors driving the motherhood wage gap have been compounded by the pandemic, Jasmine Tucker, the NWLC's director of research, says. 

The labor force participation rate for moms with children under 18 has still not recovered from the pandemic — and the women who have returned to the workforce could face hiring discrimination due to pandemic resume gaps, Tucker warns.

"Even if companies are willing to hire a mom with a resume gap, are they willing to pay them the same salary as someone on their team who didn't take time off from the labor force?" she says.  

Other obstacles that could hinder moms' progress in the workforce remain, too, including access to child care and flexible, paid family leave policies. The child care industry continues to be severely understaffed, Business Insider reports, with employment dipping 8.4% below its February 2020 level. 

Strengthening existing child-care infrastructure to meet the increasing need for affordable, accessible child care and pushing for  federal paid family leave policies could help reduce the wage gap, Rowe-Finkbeiner says, but the solution starts with inclusive, transparent hiring practices: creating standard salaries for roles, conducting annual reviews to assess whether employees are receiving enough opportunities for advancement and equitable pay, for example. 

"There are still a ton of moms out there who are behind on rent, who can't feed their kids, who are rebuilding their savings that were depleted during the pandemic," Tucker says. "Moms are not okay, and without the right actions and interventions, they might never be." 

Check out:

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