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Coronavirus pandemic sheds light on the problem with underpaying women

A vaccine won't be enough to inoculate our society from a repeat of this disaster. We also need to improve remuneration for women, value the caring professions and stop gendered segregation at work.

coronavirus financial problems

We're in the middle of a pandemic and a national state of emergency. Many parents are worried about their families getting sick, but many are just as worried about how they will stretch a paycheck if coronavirus concerns shrink it.

This week, the White House announced it has plans to send cash to American families and many moms are waiting to hear more about that help because they desperately need it.

According to research conducted by the American Payroll Association in 2019, 74% of employees in the United States would find it difficult if they missed a paycheck. And as daily life grinds to a halt during the pandemic many paychecks will be missed—and moms are more likely to be squeezed during this time of financial uncertainty.

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Women are more likely to be living paycheck to paycheck, according to a 2017 survey by employment website CareerBuilder, which found 81% of women can't miss a paycheck without serious consequences.

The pandemic is highlighting the precarious financial situations of many mothers and the consequences of building an economy on the labor of underpaid women. It's also highlighting just how many Americans are living paycheck to paycheck—about 23 million people can't miss a pay period and might soon.

Multiple factors are contributing to this—wage stagnation and the gig economy are certainly at play—and during a pandemic, these factors put everyone at risk. People who are living paycheck to paycheck are also often lacking in sick leave. A stunning 75% of people who work in day care centers don't have access to paid sick days and 81% of food service workers don't either.

Motherly reader Megan is four months pregnant with her first child. She and her spouse work in the restaurant industry in the Southeastern U.S. and their unpredictable employment is increasing their anxiety during an already stressful time.

"Recently, our restaurant closed completely except for carry out, meaning the amount of hours I've been scheduled for has been way more than cut in half. I'm down to 9 hours a week from 40," she tells Motherly.

"My husband and I are trying to pay for my prenatal bills, save for the baby, save for school, pay rent, buy groceries—which is getting tricky because people are buying out stores but we can't afford to stock up on a month's worth of food— and build up a savings account all at the same time, but with half the amount of income. More than ever, I'm hoping this all blows over soon because not working full time is stressing me and my husband out," she explains.

Mothers are more likely to live paycheck to paycheck because mothers make less.

Women like Megan are more likely than men to end up in minimum wage jobs and even college-educated women are more likely to pick majors with lower salary potential. Occupations that employ more men tend to pay better because society undervalues women and the work they do and because society undervalues motherhood.

Women who earn low wages are twice as likely than men to hold a degree. Occupations that are feminized are often perceived as more flexible or offering a better work-life balance than male-dominated fields where 60 hour work weeks are the norm. And while some corners of the internet will blame women for this wage gap and gendered occupational segregation, but it's not as simple as picking a less lucrative trade or major. If too many women chose to go into a field that pays well, the scales tip.

As Sarah Green Carmichael explained in the Harvard Business Review, "Researchers have found that the pay gap is not as simple as women being pushed into lower-paying jobs. In effect, it is the other way around: Certain jobs pay less because women take them. Wages in biology and design were higher when the fields were predominantly male; as more women became biologists and designers, pay dropped. The opposite happened in computing, where early programmers were female. Today, that field is one of the most predominantly male—and one of the highest paying. The wage gap remains the widest at the top of the income ladder, where jobs tend to be male-dominated."

Mothers are more likely to work in caring occupations and in part-time or hourly positions with no safety net.

Motherly reader Ashley* is works in physical therapy in the Midwest. She's paid hourly and while the physical therapy clinics she works at are staying open during the pandemic, only salaried employers are working right now as the demand is lower than usual.

"We are to submit for paid time off or take it completely unpaid. I have no PTO available because I had a baby during the summer and was required to use all my PTO for that. So I'm not technically unemployed because the clinic is still open but I'm getting no hours due to not enough patients," she tells Motherly.

"Now I'm sitting [here] not working, not getting paid, trying to figure out how to continue to pay a day care for my 7-month-old and 3-year-old daughters to hold their spots so I can go back to work when I'm needed. I'm trying to meditate daily, stay positive, and savor these days with my littles but I am unsure what the future looks like for us."

High day care costs still hurt when the facilities are closed.

Like Ashley, Motherly reader Melanie is worried about day care payments right now.

"While my husband and I are fortunate enough to have jobs that allow us to work from home, we are struggling with the day care situation," she tells Motherly, explaining that while having more time with her 5-month-old child is nice, being charged for day care she can't use is frustrating. She's paying $300 a week right now, and if the day care is closed for more than a month it will reduce the payments to 75% of the usual cost.

"But this means we are struggling to work from home with a needy little guy while paying for nothing. We definitely do not have the extra funds, so it's causing a lot of stress on our end. Hoping something can be done soon so we can put that money into savings," says Melanie. "Would rather have it as an emergency fund instead of just flying out the window."

It is hard for many mothers to save for emergencies.

Melanie would rather be putting $300 a week into an emergency fund, and if families like her had access to affordable childcare they might have been able to do that before this pandemic hit. This would still be hard, but the financial pressures would be reduced.

But in a world where day care costs are astronomical but day care workers earn little, families on either end can't prepare for things like pandemics.

If our society had insisted on affordable childcare and fair pay for women, especially those in the caring professions, childcare workers who would not be in the dire straights they are in now that day cares are closing, forcing them to miss paychecks.

Unfortunately, we are realizing this too late. We didn't invest in these roles and now those who perform them are in crisis. Coronavirus is a health issue but it causing so many economic issues and so many personal financial crises for mothers.

Megan, the pregnant mom whose restaurant hours have been slashed, found a lost $20 bill under her bed this week and is feeling lucky, but new moms like her need more than luck. They need community and a country that supports them.

A vaccine won't be enough to inoculate our society from a repeat of this disaster. We also need to improve remuneration for women, value the caring professions and stop gendered segregation at work.

*name has been changed to protect privacy.

These are the best bath time products you can get for under $20

These budget-friendly products really make a splash.

With babies and toddlers, bath time is about so much more than washing off: It's an opportunity for fun, sensory play and sweet bonding moments—with the added benefit of a cuddly, clean baby afterward.

Because bathing your baby is part business, part playtime, you're going to want products that can help with both of those activities. After countless bath times, here are the products that our editors think really make a splash. (Better yet, each item is less than $20!)

Comforts Bath Wash & Shampoo

Comforts Baby Wash & Shampoo

Made with oat extract, this bath wash and shampoo combo is designed to leave delicate skin cleansed and nourished. You and your baby will both appreciate the tear-free formula—so you can really focus on the bath time fun.

Munckin Soft Spot Bath Mat

Munchkin slip mat

When your little one is splish-splashing in the bath, help keep them from also sliding around with a soft, anti-slip bath mat. With strong suction cups to keep it in place and extra cushion to make bath time even more comfortable for your little one, this is an essential in our books.

Comforts Baby Lotion

Comforts baby lotion

For most of us, the bath time ritual continues when your baby is out of the tub when you want to moisturize their freshly cleaned skin. We look for lotions that are hypoallergenic, nourishing and designed to protect their skin.

The First Years Stack Up Cups

First year stack cups

When it comes to bath toys, nothing beats the classic set of stackable cups: Sort them by size, practice pouring water, pile them high—your little one will have fun with these every single bath time.

Comforts Baby Oil

Comforts baby oil

For dry skin that needs a little extra TLC, our team loves Comforts' fast-absorbing baby oil aloe vera and vitamin E. Pro tip: When applied right after drying off your baby, the absorption is even more effective.

KidCo Bath Toy Organizer

KidCo Bath Organizer

Between bathing supplies, wash rags, toys and more, the tub sure can get crowded in a hurry. We like that this organizer gives your little one space to play and bathe while still keeping everything you need within reach.

Another great tip? Shopping the Comforts line on Comfortsforbaby.com to find premium baby products for a fraction of competitors' prices—and follow along on social media to see product releases and news at @comfortsforbaby.

This article was sponsored by The Kroger Co. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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14 Toys that will keep your kids entertained inside *and* outside

They transition seamlessly for indoor play.

With Labor day weekend in the rearview and back-to-school in full swing, most parents are fresh out of boxes to check on their "Fun Concierge" hit list. It's also the point of diminishing returns on investing in summer-only toys. So with that in mind, we've rounded up some of our favorite toys that are not only built to last but will easily make the transition from outdoor to indoor play. Even better, they're Montessori-friendly and largely open-ended so your kids can get a ton of use out of them.

From sunny backyard afternoons to rainy mornings stuck inside, these toys are sure to keep little ones engaged and entertained.

Meadow ring toss game

Plan Toys meadow ring toss game

Besides offering a fantastic opportunity to hone focus, coordination, determination and taking turns, lawn games are just plain fun. Set them up close together for the littles and spread them out when Mom and Dad get in on the action. With their low profile and rope rings, they're great for indoors as well.

$30

Balance board

Plan Toys balance board

Balance boards are a fabulous way to get the wiggles out. This one comes with a rope attachment, making it suitable for even the youngest wigglers. From practicing their balance and building core strength to working on skills that translate to skateboarding and snowboarding, it's a year-round physical activity that's easy to bring inside and use between Zoom classes, too!

$75

Detective set

Plan Toys detective setDetective Set

This set has everything your little detective needs to solve whatever mystery they might encounter: an eye glasses, walkie-talkie, camera, a red lens, a periscope and a bag. Neighborhood watch? Watch out.

$40

Wooden doll stroller

Janod wooden doll strollerWooden Doll Stroller

Take their charges on a stroll around the block with this classic doll stroller. With the same versatility they're used to in their own ride, this heirloom quality carriage allows their doll or stuffy to face them or face the world.

$120

Sand play set

Plan Toys sand set

Whether you're hitting the beach or the backyard sandbox, this adorable wooden sand set is ready for action. Each scoop has an embossed pattern that's perfect for sand stamping. They're also totally suitable for water play in the wild or the bathtub.

$30

Water play set

Plan Toys water play set

Filled with sand or water, this tabletop sized activity set keeps little ones busy, quiet and happy. (A mama's ideal trifecta 😉). It's big enough to satisfy their play needs but not so big it's going to flood your floors if you bring the fun inside on a rainy day.

$100

Mini golf set

Plan Toys mini golf set

Fore! This mini golf set is lawn and living room ready. Set up a backyard competition or incorporate into homeschooling brain breaks that shift focus and build concentration.

$40

Vintage scooter balance bike

Janod retro scooter balance bike

Pedals are so 2010. Balance bikes are the way to go for learning to ride a bike while skipping the training wheels stage altogether. This impossibly cool retro scooter-style is built to cruise the neighborhood or open indoor space as they're learning.

$121

Wooden rocking pegasus

plan toys wooden rocking pegasus

Your little will be ready to take flight on this fun pegasus. It gently rocks back and forth, but doesn't skimp on safety—its winged saddle, footrests and backrest ensure kids won't fall off whether they're rocking inside or outside.

$100

Croquet set

Plan Toys croquet set

The cutest croquet set we've ever seen! With adorable animal face wooden balls and a canvas bag for easy clean up, it's also crafted to stick around awhile. Round after round, it's great for teaching kiddos math and problem-solving skills as well.

$45

Wooden digital camera

fathers factory wooden digital camera

Kids get the chance to assemble the camera on their own then can adventure anywhere to capture the best moments. With two detachable magnetic lenses, four built-in filters and video recorder, your little photographer can tap into their creativity from summertime to the holidays.

$179

Wooden bulldozer toy

plan toys wooden bulldozer toy

Whether they're digging up sand in the backyad or picking up toys inside, kids can get as creative as they want picking up and moving things around. Even better? Its wooden structure means it's not an eye sore to look at wherever your digger drops it.

$100

Pull-along hippo

janod toys pull along hippo toy

There's just something so fun about a classic pull-along toy and we love that they seamlessly transition between indoor and outdoor play. Crafted from solid cherry and beechwood, it's tough enough to endure outdoor spaces your toddler takes it on.

$33

Baby forest fox ride-on

janod toys baby fox ride on

Toddlers will love zooming around on this fox ride-on, and it's a great transition toy into traditional balance bikes. If you take it for a driveway adventure, simply use a damp cloth to wipe down the wheels before bringing back inside.

$88

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