On this Labor Day, let’s consider the two meanings of the word. On the one hand, there is the original labor exerted by our mothers when we were brought into this world. On the other, there is the often invisible work that our mothers provided in raising us. So often, it was our mothers who stayed with us when we were sick, who held us when we were hurting, who made sure we were fed, warm and safe. Mothers are the essential workers for our families and communities—so this Labor Day, we are compelled to think about the many ways our leaders and policies are currently failing this country’s mothers.
Too many mothers, especially mothers of color, cannot access what they need to take care of themselves and their families. A mother from the Abundant Birth Project, a guaranteed income program in San Francisco targeting Black and Pacific Islander mothers, noted: “If you’re making minimum wage to support a family of four or five, it just don’t make no sense … I can still get denied benefits.”
Stagnant wages in the face of rising costs mean that even mothers with jobs are not safe from financial catastrophe. The lack of paid medical and family leave has pushed mothers out of the workforce during the pandemic. Further, moms are punished and penalized by the very safety net programs intended to help them advance economically and socially. Blatant racism, lack of trust and centuries of unremedied exploitation threaten the well-being of mothers of color and their families everyday.