How Sexism Makes it Harder for Moms to Raise Kids

September 16th 2015

Brigida Santos

Child care benefits all of American society, but because it is still mainly seen as a women’s issue, sexist attitudes have prevented necessary reforms from happening.

This is apparent in the misconceptions about how poor women spend their money.

The truth is that mothers earning salaries below the poverty line are sacrificing almost half of their earnings on child care. According to a 2015 study by the National Women’s Law Center, child care costs affect women more than men, as costs consume a larger share of employed mothers’ incomes than overall family income.

This often discourages women from participating in the paid workforce, and even when mothers of very young children do participate, nearly one in five end up in low-wage jobs.

Mothers who pay child care providers to care for children under the age of five spend on average:

  • 43 percent of their income if earnings are below the poverty level.
  • 33 percent if earnings are between 100 and 200 percent of the poverty level.
  • 21 percent if earnings are at or above 200 percent of the poverty level.

Here are some statistics on working mothers in California from 2014:

  • 20.1 percent of working mothers of very young children worked in low-wage occupations.
  • In comparison, 15.3 percent of the total workforce had low-wage jobs.
  • Average cost of full-time infant care at child care centers was $12,068.
  • Child poverty rate equaled 23.8 percent.
  • Minimum wage was set hourly at $9 except in San Francisco and San Jose where it was just over $10.

1. Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit

The NWLC states that improving the federal Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit would help mothers in need while encouraging more women to participate in the workforce. As of now, these tax credits provide only limited benefits for low income families because they are not refundable, meaning low income families get little or no benefits after deductions and exemptions are calculated.

2. Expand child care assistance

CDCTCs are not the only reforms our nation needs when it comes to child care assistance. A June, 2015 report by the same women’s organization titled, Gaps in Support for Early Care and Education, states, “Many families with incomes too low to afford childcare on their own are not able to receive child care assistance under their states’ restrictive eligibility limits.”

In 2014 for example, a family of three with an annual income such as:

  • Above $29,685 could not qualify for assistance in 15 states.
  • Above $39,580 could not qualify for assistance in 38 states.

3. Elect more women to public office

If women are discouraged from participating in the workforce due to the fact that they have to raise their children on their own then they are ultimately discouraged from participating in political jobs as well. This is a critical reason why there aren’t more bills passed through Congress focusing on how to improve female centric issues like child care.

In 2008, the Senate pool was still males-only, and by early 2013 there were only two female stalls in the women’s restroom near the Senate floor. According to Politico’s report, the Secret History of Women in the Senate, “In the entire history of the United States Senate, a mere 44 women have served. Ever. Those few who have were elected to a club they were never meant to join, and their history in the chamber is marked by sexism both spectacular and small….Today, the women of the Senate are confronted with a kind of floating, often subtle, but corrosive sexism, a sense of not belonging that is both pervasive and so counter to the narrative of real, if stubbornly slow, progress that many are reluctant to acknowledge this persistent secret.”
Senate.gov shows that only 20 percent of those serving today in the 114th Congress are women. Out of 108 female members:

  • 88 serve in the House, out of 435 total seats
  • 20 serve in the Senate, out of 100 total seats

Men and women should both value child care as a critically important issue facing our nation because it affects everyone—men, women and children. I hope the next round of policy makers take action to reform child care assistance policies. While President Barack Obama endorsed high quality and affordable child care in his State of the Union address, we have still yet to see changes. Maybe 2016 will be the year for women’s issues.