By: Kenya Handy-Hilliard, City Council candidate for the 40th District
Mothers are struggling now, more than we’ve seen in recent years.
The COVID-19 pandemic did not create our struggle. Still, it exposed the limitations of our current system of laws and policies and made the glaring gender and racial disparities in our society worse.
For decades, advocates have championed policy positions such as parental leave, pay equity, affordable childcare, and workplace discrimination protection. However, the urgency of this moment requires substantive change now. As we pass the year mark of this pandemic, mothers and women caregivers are still in dire need of support to stay afloat.
As a mother, I know how difficult it can be to focus on both a career and raising a family.
When businesses and schools shut down to stem the spread of COVID-19, I transitioned to working from home and caring for my children as they adjusted to virtual school like many others. In the past year, mothers have had to dig deep and tackle obstacles that we could never have imagined.
Before COVID, achieving a work-life balance for mothers seemed nearly impossible. Now, the line has become nonexistent. We’ve found ourselves juggling conference calls and snack time and staying up late to re-learn algebra to coach our children through virtual learning.
Mothers throughout our nation are experiencing burn-out — a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress — a health condition recognized by the World Health Organization, at higher rates than they did before the pandemic. The pandemic is not only a threat to public health, it also poses a substantial threat to the mental and physical hygiene of moms across the nation.
Financial distress only exacerbates the burden. COVID-19 has decimated millions of jobs. Since the beginning of the pandemic, women have been forced to leave the workplace and lost their jobs at rates higher than men and are returning to work at lower rates. One thing is clear. When mothers don’t work, households earn less money. This elevates concern when we consider the exorbitant cost of childcare.
In New York, childcare averages $15,394 per year, dropping to $12,358 at around age four. Under normal circumstances, paying more than $1,000 a month is impossible for many New Yorkers.
Imagine then how dire the situation becomes for mothers who have spent a year unemployed? Mothers working from home and those underemployed have been forced to forgo childcare to save money and ensure their families’ safety. In these uncertain times, struggling moms have relied on family and friends and subsidy programs to stay afloat. But the pandemic-fueled crisis has demonstrated the futility of band-aid solutions on gaping wounds.
That women and mothers have borne the brunt of this pandemic since it began is indisputable. But, gender isn’t the only crippling fact. Recent studies revealed that the impact of the pandemic has been unevenly distributed across racial lines. Black women with children were pushed out of the labor force at rates several times higher than other racial or ethnic groups.
Cases of burnout are also higher for Black and Latina women, who are more likely to be solo mothers. Our country’s systemic racism and sexism worked together to devastate Black mothers and mothers of color during the pandemic. COVID’s ensuing crisis underscores the need for the nation to address the inequities woven into its fabric.
Normal is no more. Many parents won’t ever get back to “normal.” Low-income earners won’t be able to access or afford their previous childcare. Economic recovery will likely resemble America’s escape from the Great Depression – slow and painful. Recovery for marginalized groups could take decades.
Our country needs a full-scale, comprehensive plan to address intersectional social disparities exacerbated by the pandemic.
The Marshall Plan for Moms is an ambitious plan to get women back to work that includes direct payments to moms and passage of long-overdue policies, like paid family leave, affordable childcare, and pay equity; retraining for women re-entering the workforce; and plans to reopen public schools five days a week safely.
The plan was recently introduced as legislation to Congress via Congresswoman Grace Meng (H.Res.121). If passed, the Marshall Plan for Moms will be an unprecedented step towards addressing systemic inequalities and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on mothers across the country.
Mothers will get a significant boost to the quest for balance–the ability to maintain good jobs and promising careers while taking care of their families. A real shot at equal pay and quality education for their children. Relief and resources for time and cash-strapped moms. An investment in us and our children. T
here’s no better way to reward mothers for our hard work and sacrifice than giving us the support to succeed.