These Are The Worst States For Working Moms

Photographed by Molly DeCoudreaux.
It’s not easy for working mothers in West Virginia, Idaho, or Mississippi. These states received failing grades in the Status Of Women In The States report by Institute for Women’s Policy and Research that was released today. Unfortunately, the study shows that it doesn’t really matter where U.S. working mothers live — across the country, women are not getting the support they need.

The report grades all 50 states and the District of Columbia based on four criteria that have been proven to help women get and stay in the workforce: access to paid leave, support for dependent or elder care, cost and quality of childcare, and the gender gap in labor force participation for parents of young children. None received As, a handful received Bs, and the rest received Cs, Ds, and Fs.
This failing report card is especially bad news as the ranks of working moms continue to grow. Today, more than two-thirds of U.S. mothers with children under six are in the workforce, up from less than one-third in 1970, and half of all families have a breadwinner mother, according to IWPR. Like it or not, balancing work and family is still largely an issue women are juggling alone, as they still do the majority of unpaid family work and are nine times more likely than men to work part-time for family care reasons.

The states that scored the highest — New York, California, and Washington, D.C. — all have some paid-leave policy in place, but policies supporting work and family across the board are patchy at best, says study director Jeffrey Hayes. “We’re not inventing the wheel here, most countries have these policies,” he says. Indeed, the U.S. is still one of the only countries in the world without a national paid maternity-leave policy, and one of a few high-income countries with no universal paid sick leave.
The lack of these protections makes it hard for women to care for their kids and keep their jobs — especially if they have sick children. Families struggle to have both parents in the workforce since in many states, childcare can be prohibitively expensive. In District of Columbia, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and New York, the cost of full-time childcare is comparable to one-third or more of women’s median annual earnings — and that’s just for one kid.

Policy adopted at any level of government can improve work-life balance for everyone, says Hayes. Take universal pre-K, for example. “An extra year of schooling might cost the community a little, but it gives the families in that community quite a benefit by saving them a year of childcare,” he says.
Family-friendly policies could also help the next generation. A recent Harvard Business School study showed that daughters of working mothers in the U.S. eventually earn higher incomes, while sons of working mothers spend more time on housework and child care.

Some states, like California, which has adopted state-wide paid sick and family leave, and cities, like New York City, which passed sick-leave legislation in 2014, have started to turn the tables on some of these issues. But, how do policies addressing working families gain more momentum on the national level? The group Make It Work thinks the key is targeting the 2016 presidential candidates with a policy platform that addresses these issues.

Feminist activist Gloria Steinem praised the effort on a call launching the platform last week. "To all those politicians who want the women’s vote next year, Make It Work has laid out your roadmap to victory…equal pay for equal work, affordable child care and elder care, and paid leave."
"Of course, not every family wants both parents to work outside the home, but family-friendly policies help everyone, says Hayes. “A little support goes a long way in helping everyone live the life they want for themselves.” 

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