Published on LinkedIn on January 16, 2014
Today was a big day for The Shriver Report, the nonprofit media initiative headed up by Maria Shriver. Launched in 2009 with the release of The Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Changes Everything, The Shriver Report has become an award winning resource for studies on the status of women in America, and it is a dedicated advocate for the full promotion of women into every facet of society. A second report, The Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Takes On Alzheimer’s, followed in 2010, and now The Shriver Report is back with the release of its third special report: The Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Pushes Back From The Brink. I am extremely honoured to be a member of the advisory board of this report, presented in partnership with the Center for American Progress, as it is a vital examination of the wage gap in America, and its detrimental impact on generations to come.
The first Shriver Report examined the cultural shift in the make up of families in America, and it revealed that fully half of the American workforce was women, with two thirds of the primary or co-breadwinners in families being mothers. This is a radical shift from the cultural norms mere decades ago, and the report revealed the sweeping impact this change was having on every aspect of society, including government, the economy, marriages, families, healthcare, and education. The new report that is being launched this week looks specifically at the economic impact of this cultural shift, and reveals an urgent need for change in the way mothers are treated in the workplace. As Maria Shriver states, “For too many American women, the dream of ‘having it all’ has morphed into ‘just hanging on'”, as the statistics show that an alarming number of American women are just one missed payment away from financial ruin.
Today, one in three American women live on the brink of poverty, which translates to 42 million women and 28 million dependent children, and two thirds of families in America depend on the mother’s income for survival. Women make up two thirds of the minimum wage workforce, and are disproportionately members of the “pink collar” service or caregiving positions that often lack benefits, such as paid sick leave. In particular, women make up a majority percent of tipped positions, many of which pay as little as $2.13 an hour, and statistics have shown that while women who are not mothers now make up to 90 cents on a man’s dollar, the numbers tumble from there once that woman becomes a mother (73 cents), with single mothers (60 cents) and mothers of colour (54 cents) faring even worse.
What is alarming about these statistics is that they reveal the precarious financial situation that is severely impacting the economic, social, and psychological welfare of one third of the female population of the United States. The reality is that the workplace policies of both the private and public sector have failed to adapt to the realities of today’s workforce, and unless change is enacted swiftly and efficiently, the long term effects on our economy, our society, and future generations looks dire. Studies have already shown that the trauma and stress of living in poverty as a child results in that child being two and a half times more likely to suffer from health issues as adults, such as depression, COPD, and hepatitis.
While this report does paint a grim picture for many of America’s working mothers, it does offer some practical solutions that could have sweeping positive effects on the economy. 96% of all single mothers say that paid leave would be the policy from which they would most benefit, while an astonishing 80% of all Americans support a more extensive government childcare system. Given that childcare now costs more than most states’ college tuitions, this situation has to be addressed, and with recent studies showing how simple changes in workplace policies as pertaining to maternity leave and paid sick days help improve our economy and save taxpayers money in the future, it is time to get serious and put these issues front and centre.
This is precisely what The Shriver Report aims to do, and its release this week will span multiple outlets and forums. Today, The Atlantic live streamed the report’s launch from Washington, DC, NBC News and MSNBC will be reporting on the launch this week across their multiple platforms, a trailer for the report can be viewed here, and on March 17th, HBO will be airing Paycheck to Paycheck: The Life and Times of Katrina Gilbert, a documentary co-executive produced by Maria Shriver and inspired by the report. The report itself is available for a free download today on Amazon, and for purchase starting tomorrow.
I couldn’t be happier to be a part of this truly groundbreaking study, and I am extremely proud of the work of The Shriver Report on behalf of America’s women and their families. Maria Shriver has said, “Leave out the women, and you don’t have a full and robust economy. Lead with the women, and you do.” It is my hope that this report can be the rallying call that will bring awareness of this issue to the mainstream and enact change at all levels of workplace policy. In doing so we will not only secure the economic future of America’s women, but of our very country itself.
Jacki Zehner and Laura Moore
Pictured: Myself with Maria Shriver and Erin Mulcahy Stein