Opinion Advocates for ideas and draws conclusions based on the author/producer’s interpretation of facts and data.
Support for Families Needs to Be Permanent
One year ago, my schedule, like that of so many other working moms, was filled to the brim with business trips, preschooler birthday parties for my daughter, and social time with my partner and friends. Then it all came to a screeching halt when the country was shut down.
As a mom, the toughest part has been helping my 5-year-old daughter adjust to the changes, and the logistics of my working from home with an active young child. While I’m thankful to be in an equal partnership where my husband and I take care of our kindergartener together, for too many families, the juggling act falls on moms more than dads.
President Biden has now signed into law a stimulus package that extends paid leave, keeps up increased food assistance, supports the safe reopening of schools, and dedicates funds to help essential workers afford child care. By expanding the child tax credit for a year and sending monthly checks of up to $300 per child to families, the American Rescue Plan is expected to cut child poverty in half. Altogether, it makes historic investments that help us raise our families in safety and with economic security.
These fixes need to be more than temporary.
The United States is the only wealthy nation in the world to not offer paid family leave, and one of few without subsidized child care. Women, including Asian American and Pacific Islander women, are overrepresented in low-wage jobs, and the wage gap persists. With less money in our pocket and no universal health care program, many of us can’t afford the care we need.
The pandemic didn’t create the impossible conditions facing moms—it only exacerbated them.
Almost 1 million mothers have left the workforce since the start of the pandemic to meet the unprecedented demands of caregiving and remote schooling. Meanwhile, other moms are forced to continue to work because their families depend on their paychecks to get food on the table and a roof over their heads. More than half of Asian American mothers are the primary, sole, or co-breadwinners for their families but, like all women, they still spend more time on housework and caregiving than their male counterparts.
Along with our frustration and despair, so many mothers unable to give their all to either their families or their jobs also blame themselves for their struggles. We have internalized messages from a culture that tells us we have to carry the load of caregiving while simultaneously devaluing our work. We haven’t failed. This country has failed us.
The ethos of personal responsibility dominates politics in this country, despite its devastating consequences. COVID-19 so far has taken at least 540,000 lives from us and it isn’t done yet, but the governors of Texas and Mississippi are forcing their constituents to fend for themselves after ending mask mandates and reopening their states 100%. From making ends meet to making sure our kids are learning and growing, moms feel like it’s up to us to figure out the solutions for our families to survive this pandemic—and for the most part, we’ve been right. Too often, it falls on mothers to find the best ways to support their families.
That’s because up until now, our lawmakers have not been delivering on the support and resources that match the realities we are living. Over the course of an entire year, a three-person family like mine would have received checks totaling $2,400. Congress under the Trump administration did nothing to support the struggling child care industry and limited the number and kind of workers eligible for paid leave, a policy that expired in December.
The pandemic didn’t create the impossible conditions facing moms—it only exacerbated them. Mothers of color especially have always been fighting an uphill battle against stagnating wages, rising costs, and with little help from the government.
U.S. Rep. Grace Meng, a Democrat from New York, recently introduced the Marshall Plan for Moms, a blueprint for restoring mothers in the workforce. The bill includes robust paid family leave, a federal minimum wage increase to $15 an hour, mental health support for moms, and other much needed policies. It also contains a vision towards providing universal child care and early learning.
We need a $15 federal minimum wage, because it would lift wages for 8 million mothers. We need permanent paid leave solutions that allow us to take care of ourselves and our families when we need to. We need transformative long-term investment that shows the well-being of families is a priority in this country.
President Biden’s rescue package contains a number of provisions from the Marshall Plans for Moms and will do a lot towards getting women and families through the pandemic. But we can’t forget that before this crisis, the cracks in the system were already showing. While much of the package’s aid expires in the fall or at the end of the year, we need to push for them to be permanent.
Sung Yeon Choimorrow is a first-generation immigrant working mom and serves as Executive Director of NAPAWF, the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum. She came to NAPAWF as their National Field Director to build a base of community leaders most affected by NAPAWF’s policy areas: immigrant rights, economic justice, and reproductive health, and she now oversees the organizing team.