The Pay Gap for Moms Is Bad. It’s About to Get Worse.

If U.S. soccer can catch up to today’s realities by supporting their team’s paid leave, childcare and fair pay needs, so can the U.S. Congress.

In the U.S, full-time working mothers make 74 cents for every dollar a working father earns. That works out to about a $1,500 gap monthly, or $18,000 annually. (Cavan Images / Getty Images)

For the first time in a decade, the U.S. women’s soccer team is heading home from a World Cup without the top prize. Yet despite their disappointing loss, no one can deny the mark this team has made on the sport of soccer—or on American society.

The only parallel to the team’s accomplishments on the pitch is their success off it, in the pursuit of gender equity. Because thanks to years of advocacy and speaking out from “soccer moms” such as Alex Morgan, Crystal Dunn and Julie Ertz, alongside their teammates, the U.S. women’s team finally won equal pay for their equal work. In doing so, the team has set an example for moms around the nation—moms who are still paid just 74 cents for every dollar paid to fathers.

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the 1963 Equal Pay Act and Aug. 15 marks Moms’ Equal Pay Day—the day that symbolizes how far into the year a mom must work to earn what men did in the previous calendar year.

After six decades of efforts to close the gender pay gap, women working full-time, year-round in the U.S. still are paid only 84 cents for every dollar compared to white, non-Hispanic men. A significant portion of this gap is driven by the caregiving responsibilities disproportionately shouldered by women, and women of color in particular.

A staggering 91 percent of mothers feel economically insecure. This insecurity will only deepen if Congress allows childcare stabilization funding to expire on Sept. 30.

An increasing number of mothers, including two-thirds of moms with young children, are breadwinners, and four out of five Black mothers are the sole or primary provider for their households. Yet America’s leaders and laws leave mothers to figure it out on their own—to simply ‘make it work.’ Despite the best efforts of the Biden administration and allies in Congress to invest in caregiving in the wake of the pandemic, every single cent of the care economy investments included in the “Build Back Better” package were left on the cutting room floor.

As a result, the status quo remains unchanged: Millions of mothers continue to live and work while hanging on by a thread. According to a survey by Aspen Institute’s Women in the Economy project, a staggering 91 percent of mothers feel economically insecure. Unfortunately, this insecurity will only deepen if Congress allows childcare stabilization funding to expire on Sept. 30—funds that kept childcare centers afloat during the pandemic, saving an estimated one-in-three providers from closing their doors.

The impacts of the looming childcare cliff are almost unimaginable to fathom for an industry already in crisis. A recent analysis by The Century Foundation found that more than 3 million children could lose access to childcare when that federal funding ends. Millions of moms will be forced to quit their jobs, switch to part-time work, find more flexible jobs, or a patchwork of these imperfect strategies, all at an estimated cost of $9 billion per year in lost earnings. These estimates don’t account for the long-term impact of reduced retirement savings, lost Social Security benefits, missed promotions, added barriers to re-entering the workforce—or the significant costs to our economy.

So what do we do about it?

To start, we need an immediate federal childcare investment of at least $16 billion per year to stave off shrinking childcare spots, staffing shortages, and rising prices that will disrupt both families and our economy.

Congress must pick up where it left off with the Build Back Better Act and build an equitable care economy that the United States has long needed. That means a publicly supported care infrastructure that includes affordable childcare for all, paid family and medical leave, accessible services for disabled and older individuals, and fair compensation for the care workforce and support for family caregivers.

If U.S. soccer can catch up to today’s realities by supporting their team’s paid leave, childcare and fair pay needs, so can the U.S. Congress.

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About and

Julie Kashen is director of women’s economic justice and a senior fellow at The Century Foundation, a leading progressive think tank. She is one of the nation’s leading experts on the issues affecting working families, having authored numerous studies on childcare, paid leave, equal pay and other topics.
Heather McCulloch is an entrepreneur-in-residence at the Aspen Institute Financial Security Program and a national thought leader on gender economic equity.