America’s workforce has changed, but the nation’s public policies have not kept pace. Women and mothers are a permanent fixture in the workforce — and odds are slim that after a child’s birth its mother will stay home full time while its father works as the family’s sole breadwinner. Seventy-two percent of women work at some point before giving birth to a first child; among women who worked during pregnancy, 73 percent return to work within six months of giving birth.8 Seventy-seven percent of mothers with children under the age of six and 78 percent of mothers with elementary- to high-school-age children work outside the home.9 In fact, 71 percent of children live in households where all parents work.
What’s more, women’s wages are critical — both to the national economy and the economic security of their families. The wages that a woman brings home can increasingly make or break her family’s economic security. Women are now the primary or co-breadwinners in more than six out of 10 households, and nearly 40 percent are the main or sole breadwinner. In lower-income households, women’s earnings are even more important to the family’s economic survival.
These demographic and economic changes make the imperative to update the nation’s public policies more urgent than ever. There needs to be a national commitment to promoting families’ economic security while giving parents the time to care for themselves and their children after birth or adoption. Without a public policy standard that gives new parents the time and financial support they need, they are forced to cobble together individual solutions in order to manage work responsibilities, children’s needs and financial obligations.