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Rep. Anna Williams

Monday, June 10, was Mom’s Equal Pay Day. That’s the day in 2019 when mothers’ wages “caught up” to what fathers earned in 2018 alone. That’s because mothers, on average, are paid 69 cents for every dollar earned by fathers.

Women are almost half the workforce, and 86 percent of women have children. In nearly two-thirds of households, a woman is the primary or co-breadwinner. And yet, mothers are still more likely to be discriminated against than fathers for their real or perceived caregiving responsibilities in hiring, raises and promotions. Mothers are economically penalized for exiting the workforce or taking time away from their jobs to care for their families. Mothers of color, who face race-based discrimination on top of maternal and gender disparities, face even greater barriers to economic stability than their white mother counterparts.

I’m a State Representative, but I’m also a mother of two children. I decided to run for the Oregon Legislature, in part, because I too have experienced discrimination as a woman and mother. Also, as a social worker who works with older adults, I know how important family care is to our elders. Very often, the same women who face penalties at work because they are mothers also carry the greatest responsibility for caring for our elders. That means they’re penalized for their caregiving responsibilities — in spite of how critical their work is to our larger economy — multiple times in their working lives.

That is why I am a champion of the paid family and medical leave program under consideration in the Oregon legislature this year. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, fewer than 15 percent of American workers have access to paid family leave through their jobs, but this new statewide program would make it possible for everyone working in Oregon to qualify for paid time away from work to care for a new child (by birth, adoption or foster care placement), to care for a seriously ill or injured loved one in need of care, or to recover from a serious illness or injury themselves.

Paid family and medical leave is a pro-family policy, and it’s also a key way to reduce persistent maternal wage gaps.

Universal paid family and medical leave programs remove some of the economic penalties faced by women, as they are still most often the ones taking unpaid time away from work to provide care to others. Making this benefit available to every Oregonian normalizes the fact that every one of us will need time away from work at one point or another to give or receive care. Making it paid leave ensures more of us can do this caregiving work, and that has the potential to reduce the discrimination that mothers, in particular, tend to experience as a result of their real or assumed caregiving responsibilities.

To ensure a paid family and medical leave program in Oregon actually reduces gender-based wage gaps, it must be available to everyone, and for reasons beyond just parental leave. Time away from work needs to be paid at a rate that makes the leave accessible. It needs to be sufficient in length to ensure that those of us dealing with a medical issue and providing care to others or caring for multiple family members at the same time, have the support we need. It needs to be a social insurance program that we all contribute to — not a requirement to participate in a for-profit system that quickly becomes unaffordable for too many of us, like health insurance often is.

For mothers to be able to achieve economic stability, we’re going to have to do things differently. We need to make it possible to both care for a family and provide for one. Paid family and medical leave is an important step forward, and I look forward to the day when this critical family support is available to everyone working in Oregon. I’ll keep fighting for paid family and medical leave, and all the policies moms need, until we no longer need to observe Mom’s Equal Pay Day.

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