By Velu Ochoa
Being a mom can be an incredibly rewarding life experience, but it can also be one of the most challenging and stressful experiences a woman can have. I was already aware of the lack of support for mothers in the U.S. Now that I am a mom, I realize that the challenges are bigger and more pressing than I anticipated.
From lack of parental leave to high child care costs, mothers in the U.S. face numerous challenges, making it difficult for them to provide for their families and keep an eye on their own well-being.
Paid Parental Leave
One of the biggest challenges that moms in the U.S. face is the lack of federal paid parental leave. Unlike other industrialized countries that guarantee paid parental leave, the U.S. has no federal law mandating it. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) does provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave, but not all employees are eligible and this can put a significant financial strain on new moms.
Additionally, while unpaid medical leave may provide some time off work to care for their child, it does not offer any financial support. Unpaid medical leave does not offer job security, and employers are not required to hold a mother’s job beyond the allotted time. This can be particularly challenging for single mothers or families that rely on the mother’s income.
Child care is another major expense in the U.S. According to the Economic Policy Institute, the average cost of childcare in the U.S. is more than $10,000 per year for one child, which is just as much as the average cost of in-state college tuition. Many low-income families struggle to find affordable and safe child care options for their children, making it difficult for moms to return to work or further their education.
Access to affordable health care is also a major concern for moms in the U.S. While Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) provide healthcare coverage for many low-income families, eligibility requirements vary by state and many families still struggle to access care. This is concerning given the fact that maternal mortality rates are higher in the U.S. than in other developed countries, and lack of access to care can contribute to poor maternal and infant health outcomes.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the maternal mortality rate in the U.S. in 2021 was 32.9 deaths per 100,000 live births. This rate is higher than in many other developed countries, and there are significant disparities in maternal mortality based on race and ethnicity; rates for Black women are significantly higher than rates for white and Hispanic women.
Breastfeeding is another area where moms in the U.S. face challenges. Breastfeeding has numerous health benefits for both moms and babies, but many mothers in the U.S. face barriers to breastfeeding. This includes a lack of support from employers, inadequate facilities for pumping breast milk at work, and limited access to lactation consultants or no insurance coverage.
Pay disparities also affect moms in the U.S. Women in the U.S. earn an average of 82 cents for every dollar earned by white men. This gap is even wider for women of color, making it difficult for moms to provide for their children, especially if they are the sole or main provider for their family.
Mothers are an important part of the population of every country and their contributions to society cannot be overlooked. They play a critical role in the socio-economic fabric of a nation, oftentimes acting as the primary caregivers for their children while at the same time being important contributors to the workforce and the economy.
Make the ERA a priority
That is why the Equal Rights Amendment must be a priority for our nation, as it could provide important legal protections for mothers (and all parents) in the United States. By prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex, the ERA could help to address pay disparities, ensure access to paid parental leave, support breastfeeding resources, and improve access to health care. It is time for the U.S. to publish the ERA and provide equal rights and protections for all mothers across the country so that we can support their well-being and help their families thrive.