Reader View: Pre-K for Santa Fe is a women’s rights issue

April 23, 2017 GMT

I am an early childhood education advocate and a working mother to an almost 3-year-old daughter. Fifty years after the passage of the Equal Pay Act, women continue to earn less than men in nearly every occupation. Today, women earn 78 percent of what their male counterparts earn. Hispanic women, who are most affected by the gender wage gap, earn only 54 percent of what men earn.

Before having a child, the average female earns 10 percent to 15 percent less than a male employee. After childbirth, that rises to 33 percent. There is a term for this — the “motherhood penalty.” It’s not enough that our country fails to provide paid maternity leave, but there’s an actual penalty to working mothers for having children.

Skeptics claim women are more likely to go into lower-wage professions such as teaching, nursing and social work. Maybe we should think about why these jobs are lower wage to begin with. Perhaps it’s that they have historically been filled by women. Skeptics say women are less likely to pursue college degrees in higher-paying professions; have more obligations outside the workplace (like caring for a sick child, spouse or parent); and have lower education levels.

However, a report by the American Association of University Women shows that even when comparing workers one year out of college — when men and women are virtually equal in age, education and family responsibility — there is still a wage gap. Women earn an average of just over $35,000, while men earn an average of nearly $43,000 their first year out of college. And that’s just the beginning.

When women leave the workforce because they cannot afford child care, or their employer is not supportive, they dramatically alter their lifetime earnings and career trajectories. This will affect a woman for the rest of her life. Enabling more women to work by improving access to early childhood programs can help close the wage gap and can decrease the number of women leaving the workforce. Access to affordable early childhood education helps working moms. Mothers who receive child care support are more likely to be continuously employed than those who do not. As a working Hispanic mother, I find this appalling. There are no children’s books to break this news to my daughter, and hopefully I won’t ever have to.

I hope my daughter grows up to be happy, healthy and fulfilled. If she chooses to go into the workforce, I hope she will be compensated based on her skills and knowledge, not on her gender. If she chooses to become a parent, I hope her employer will be supportive, not punitive. If today’s working mothers don’t fight for our daughters, we can’t expect them to live in a better world.

Pre-K for Santa Fe will support our youngest learners. It will also bolster their families. Mothers can choose to stay in the workforce or go back to school. For working families, access to affordable high-quality pre-K is a game-changer. This is a women’s rights issue. We hear the skeptics on this initiative, too. They say there’s a better way. We know there isn’t. A “better way” is not going to improve our 49th ranking in child well-being.

But we can march to the polls in solidarity with the women in our lives. We can vote “yes” for pre-K, for a woman’s right to work, for a family’s right to make ends meet. We are the City Different, not the city of the status quo.

Danila Zidovsky lives in Santa Fe and is an early childhood education policy analyst, mother of a pre-K student and a Pre-K for Santa Fe organizer.