Making Change for Working Mothers of Color on Capitol Hill

“Our country will not live up to its full potential unless and until working mothers, especially mothers of color, are afforded every opportunity to adequately provide for their families, including paid family leave, affordable child care\ and pay equity,” Rep. Rashida Tlaib declared Tuesday during a conversation about the issues facing working mothers of color across the country on Capitol Hill. “As a working mother of two myself, that is precisely what I came to Congress to fight for, and I’m honored to join the coalition Mothering Justice has formed to ensure this fight is won.”

Reps. Tlaib, Deb Haaland and Brenda Lawrence and Sen. Kamala Harris joined Founding Director of Mothering Justice Danielle Atkinson and Deputy Director Eboni Taylor and Family Values @ Work Labor Project for Working Families Director Carol Joyner and organizer Sade Moonsammy at the inaugural Mamas’ March roundtable, where the coalition’s Mama’s Agenda took center stage.

“Women’s issues are family issues,” Atkinson declared, “and family issues are economic issues.” Her powerful words summarized the policies encompassed in the Agenda: the FAMILY Act, which would guarantee paid family leave nationwide the Childcare for Working Families Act, which would ensure that low-income families weren’t spending a majority of their income on childcare; the Healthy Families Act, which would expand paid sick leave for parents; and Congressional efforts to take on the Black maternal health crisis.

Rep. Lawrence kicked off the conversation by reminding the room of the ways in which race, gender and class intersect in the lives of working mothers of color. “The largest demographic of poverty are women with children,” she reported to the group, “and when you look at women with children, the largest demographic are women of color.”

Lawrence added that single working mothers spend an average of 60 percent of each paycheck on childcare—an economic injustice that’s exacerbated by high costs of living and a low minimum wage. “In 99 percent of counties today,” Sen. Harris added, “[minimum wage workers] cannot afford market rate for a one-bedroom apartment.”

Harris noted that a majority of those minimum-wage workers are women—and that the Rent Relief Act she sponsored in the Senate could provide some economic reprieve for working moms trying to make ends meet. “For families who spend 30% of their income on rent and utilities,” she explained, “they will receive a tax credit to help them pay for those things.”

Policies like these could close the gaps in access that families of color face when compared to their white counterparts, and ensure that all children are able to grow up with equal opportunities for success. But lifting up working mothers and their families goes beyond making their ends meet—and in some ways, it even starts in the delivery room.

Maternal mortality rates affecting Black and Indigenous women in the U.S. are skyrocketing in the U.S. More women are dying because of birth and pregnancy-related complications than in any other developed country and Black and Indigenous women are three-to-four times more likely than white women to die because of pregnancy or birth-related complications. Haaland, one of the first Native women to ever be elected to Congress, decried the fact that “women of color in particular find themselves behind everyone else” in terms of economics, healthcare and even political freedom.

“As a single mom who knows what it’s like to piece together health care for my child and who cleaned toilets just so my daughter could go to pre-school, I know what families go through to make it work,” Haaland said. “But they shouldn’t just make it work. Our families should be thriving.”

Advancing the Mamas’ Agenda would mark a massive step forward in that mission—and Tuesday’s roundtable was a powerful reminder that in the wake of the 2018 midterms, in and in the midst of the most diverse Congressional cohort in history, working mothers who have for too long lacked allies on Capitol Hill finally have a voice.

“When women sit at the table, the conversation changes,” Lawrence reminded her colleagues that afternoon. “And we are changing that narrative.”

Watch out, white patriarchy. Mothers of color are coming to dismantle you.

You can watch the roundtable in full below.


Ashley LeCroy is an editorial intern for Ms. and a passionate self-identified feminist who aims both to advocate and make space for the world's most marginalized communities. Ashley is currently pursuing a dual degree in Political Science and English with a minor in Anthropology at UCLA—where she writes for FEM, the student-run feminist news magazine, and works on the Art Series staff for the Cultural Affairs Commission.