If you’re worried about Idaho’s declining birthrate, let’s try giving mothers a break

In over 20 years, there have been relatively fewer new Idaho moms to congratulate on Mother’s Day. The March of Dimes Peristats indicates that in 2010 Idaho had 75.7 births per 1,000. In 2020 it had dropped to 60.9 per 1,000. Although it’s a couple of points here and there, it’s an unsettling trend for our frequently touted “pro-family” state.

Sylvia Chariton, AAUW Idaho
Sylvia Chariton, AAUW Idaho

If the Idaho Legislature and businesses had listened to women, they would know that pregnant women and mothers have long been begging for adequate, systemic support that would make working outside of the home and motherhood more sustainable.

But where are Idaho’s family-friendly policies?

Recently, Wallethub’s “Best & Worst States for Working Moms” ranking placed Idaho at No. 47 out of 50 states and the District of Columbia. A gender pay gap and day care issues contributed to the Gem State’s abysmal ranking.

US News & World Report indicated that Idaho women make 75 cents for every $1 their male counterpart earns. The median annual salary for Idaho women is $36,784 and for men is $49,116.

Though childbearing has economic benefits for our society, women are financially penalized for having children.

The American Association of University Women recently released a study entitled the Motherhood Penalty. Because of old workplace paradigms, becoming a mother jeopardizes her family’s financial security.

AAUW reports that women comprise almost half of the U.S. labor force, and 71% are mothers with children at home. Additionally, the Center for American Progress reports that 41% of working women with children are the sole or primary breadwinner in their households. Nonetheless, women’s earnings — as well as their earning potential — often take a major hit when they become moms. For poor single moms, it’s really a hard knock life.

Most employers still don’t offer necessary benefits such as paid parental leave, caregiving leave or flexible work schedules that could make it easier for working spouses to share responsibilities and to blend their work and family life. Rather, the workplace still adheres to an outdated model that prioritizes long, continuous, traditional work hours — a fact that puts women at a disadvantage.

The lack of affordable child care pushes many Idaho low-wage workers out of the workforce, whose earnings would barely offset the bill for day care. If a young mom does not have a close relative willing to babysit, her career path could be in jeopardy. Parents in Idaho are really on their own.

Procare Solutions, which monitors child care costs, estimates that infant care in Idaho costs an average of $623 per month, while placing a 4-year-old child into center-based care is likely to cost a family around $538 monthly. Median household income in Idaho is approximately $4,600 monthly. Placing a single child in infant care would cost the median family 13.5% of their gross income, while placing two children (one infant and one four-year-old) would cost the family $1,161 monthly, 25% of total income.

As an important election approaches, Idahoans need to question their pro-family candidates about policies that give working mothers a safety net. These policies are paid family leave, quality day care, strong public schools, decent health care, a safe place to live and an adequate minimum wage.

According to the Associated Press, states with the strongest abortion restrictions also have the weakest working mother policies that make life difficult for their children to grow and thrive.

With no help in sight, Idaho women will continue to take birth control because Idaho has made it clear that it does not want to be part of that so-called village that it takes to raise a child.

Sylvia Chariton is co-president of American Association of University Women of Idaho.