How much is $2.13 worth to you? For millions of working mothers, this is their hourly wage. A wage that is expected to cover housing, utilities, food, transportation, child care, health care, emergency and retirement savings, and after all that there may be something left for personal expenses. This list is accepted as “basic economic security” and as one of the richest countries in the world, we massively fail to provide even the basics of economic security for working families.
A new report, The Third Shift: Child Care Needs and Access for Working Mothers in Restaurants, published by the Restaurant Opportunities Center United (ROC) and a collaborative effort by nine economic justice organizations, shifts the center of the” mommy wars” from those who can opt out (or is it lean in?) to working poor mothers. As Syreeta McFadden of Feministing so eloquently states:
When we talk about motherhood and work in our various spaces, we fail to underscore the significance of single mothers in the workforce. There are still way too many trend stories about upper middle class women (and mothers) in the workforce and to some, it still is the singular narrative and face of modern feminism.
The Third Shift is overwhelming in its accuracy of what it means to make $2.13 an hour, the federal subminimum wage for tipped workers. The statistics are sobering when a forty hour work week equals $85.
- over half of the workers in food preparation and related occupations are women, 15% of which are mothers
- more than one million of these working mothers are single with children under the age of 18
- half of the mothers in the restaurant industry are women of color; 30% are immigrants
- 30% of working mothers with children in formal day care exceeded 75% of their earnings
- the average cost of child care for those surveyed was $87 a week for one child or $112 for all children
- over 90% of those surveyed lacked sick paid leave
Behind these numbers are working mothers like Vimala, Losia, Teresa, Erickah, and Sandra. Daniella from Detroit lays out the math: “If [you] don’t get any tips, you can’t pay the bills, because you only get paid $2.65 an hour, so your paycheck is worthless to you. I make on average, $90 a week, $125 on a good week. But, that’s not even making daycare.”
Affordability of child care, erratic schedules, and career mobility were cited as three main barriers for working mothers in the restaurant industry. One of the more troubling consequences that has exponential impact on family economic security is lack of paid sick days. Referencing an Economic Policy Institute report on the need for federal policy on paid sick days, “taking three and a half sick days without pay is equivalent to one month’s rent”.
For so many working mothers, there are literally no choices and the collateral damage from this “mommy war” is living life in perpetual survival mode. In other words, there is no work/life balance.
There are common sense solutions that could lift millions of families out of poverty. According to even the most conservative of estimates, raising the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $9.80 an hour would increase retail food prices for American consumers by at most 10 cents a day. Other solutions are passing paid sick leave laws, expanding access to child care subsidies, and helping those who qualify get enrolled in Medicare (or supporting efforts to get states that haven’t opted into Medicaid expansion to do so).
These solutions, at best the very least we can do for working mothers, would ensure that millions could pivot more toward a balanced life of work and caring for their families.
– Ginger Hintz, Contributor