Friday, October 1, 2010

Having Kids: Changing your life AND your paycheck

The Government Accountability Office, commissioned by the Joint Economic Committee of Congress, recently released a report that showed very slow progress on closing the wage gap, particularly among female managers. Perhaps the most shocking data surrounds working mothers: working mothers earn just $0.79 to ever dollar a working father earns, after adjusting for things like education and age. This has stayed the same since 2000.

What does that mean? Even though more women than men graduate from college and post-Great Recession make up the majority of the workforce, working mothers are losing.

Cited in the NY Times , Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY), Chairwoman of the Joint Committee said, "When working women have kids, they know it will change their lives, but they are stunned by how much it changes their paycheck. In this economy, it is adding insult to injury, especially as families are increasingly relying on the wages of working moms."

What does this mean for us? That the wage gap is largely a function of the work-life balance debate. That what's good for working mothers and their families is to find a way to keep women employed throughout fluctuations in their life and care-taking responsibilities (new babies, aging parents, heck, even sick dogs) so that the can in fact rise to the management ranks.

The Glass Hammer took the story one step further, demonstrating Why Men Matter in the Work/Life Debate. Discussing author and UC Hastings Law Professor Joan William's recent assertion that the work/life debate needs to move away from a maternal argument and embrace paternalistic responsibilities as well. Noting an absence of dialogue, inflexible work schedules and missing voice of the middle class in policy-making discussions, Williams believes focusing too much on the working mother's needs, and not that of the whole family (including Dear Ol' Dad) is hampering progress.

I remember when our twins were born, 6 weeks early with a stay in the NICU, my husband unsuccessfully petitioned- all the way to the VP of Human Resources of his Fortune 100 very profitable firm for which he had worked 3 years- to get 4 days of paid paternity leave instead of 2. His argument was two babies, two days each. They didn't see it that way. We needed more help than any 2 days of paid leave could ever provide but that signal, that "working dads are nice but don't come looking to us for help" eventually cost them an employee.

But I think things are starting to change. At a recent sick child appointment at our local pediatrician's office I noted with smug satisfaction that there were more Dads than Moms in the waiting room. Some Dads were in gym clothes (SAHD?) with tardy back-to-school health forms, others donned the typical DC dark suit and glanced furtively at Blackberries while waiting to be called. But the bottom line is that with more women in the workforce than men the Dads are stepping up, and although change is slow in the making, we're moving in the right direction.

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