Economics of Caregiving for Working Mothers

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The Economics of Caregiving for Working Mothers

by Sarah Jane Glynn and Katie Hamm

December 10, 2019

64% of mothers are the primary breadwinners or co-breadwinners in their households, meaning that they earn a significant portion of their family’s income.
Women of color, and Black women in particular, are especially likely to play this role for their families. More than 8 in 10 —84.4%—of Black mothers are breadwinners or co-breadwinners, as are 6 in 10—60.3%—of Latinx mothers.
Women working for pay earn more than $5 trillion per year, contributing enormously to U.S. economic growth.
If every working woman in America went on strike for just one day, it would cost GDP nearly $21 billion.
In 2016, close to 2 million parents with a child under age 5 either quit, did not take a new job, or had to greatly change their job due to problems with child care.
More than half of parents who identified as “homemakers” said that they would “look for a job” if they had child care options that were more affordable.
The cost of child care has more than doubled over the past 20 years, while wages for workers have been largely stagnant over the same time period.
When families are unable to find child care, the proportion of employed mothers in the United States drops from 89 percent to 77 percent, whereas there is no statistically significant impact on fathers’ employment.
If women in the United States participated in the labor force at the same rate as women in Canada or Germany—countries that have made greater investments in a whole suite of work-family policies, including paid leave and child care—the result would be an additional 5 million more women in the labor force and more than $500 billion in estimated additional economic activity each year.
While the high cost of child care is not only a women’s issue, the simple truth is that when families struggle to find and afford care, mothers are most likely to bear the burden and suffer the consequences, including being less likely to be employed. The labor force participation rate of mothers reached a peak of 73 percent in 2000 and has been stagnant or slightly declining ever since.
The labor force participation rate of mothers reached a peak of 73 percent in 2000 and has been stagnant or slightly declining ever since. This pattern is likely to be at least partially due to a lack of work-family policies such as access to comprehensive paid family and medical leave, paid sick days, affordable child care, and efforts to address the racial and gender wage gap—all policies that are more common in countries that have not experienced the same decline in mothers’ labor force participation.
When families lack access to affordable child care, it has a disproportionate negative effect on working mothers. And this, in turn, has consequences for the industries where working mothers are overrepresented, thus affecting the larger economy as well.
CAP analysis of U.S. Census Bureau
American Community Survey (ACS)

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