⚫ NJ ranks near the bottom on pay equity for moms

⚫ At the same time, working dads are delivered a premium

⚫ Advocates say NJ should close a loophole in leave laws

Trying to overcome the gender pay gap in New Jersey is hard enough for women. The task becomes even more difficult when a woman becomes a mother.

A report out of the Rutgers Center for Women and Work shines a light on the so-called "motherhood penalty," which is considered to be a key driver of pay disparities among sexes.

And in New Jersey, the report states, equity is lacking substantially. The Garden State ranks 43rd in the nation, sharing the bottom rung with mostly southern and western states.

According to the Center's analysis of American Community Survey data, New Jersey moms earned a little more than $53,000 annually from 2018 to 2022. Over the same period, women without children earned more than $55,000, while men without children took in $78,692 yearly, and working dads brought in more than $100,000 annually.

"Many women experience a large, immediate, and persistent drop in earnings after the birth of their first child," said Yana Rodgers, the Center's faculty director. "In most families, moms still do the bulk of the childcare and housework, which limits their job options."

Mommy stigma

The research notes that many new mothers exit the workforce or take a lower-paying job with more flexibility. Such moves can result in a reduction in earnings for years to come.

At the same time, employers may apply "mommy stigma" during the hiring process and offer mothers lower wages and fewer opportunities because it's expected that they will miss work frequently to care for their kids.

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The same mindset doesn't seem to apply as often to working fathers, Rodgers said. Dads may get offered a "fatherhood premium" due to their perceived competence and dedication.

The Center's research suggests that the penalty for moms is even more severe in wealthy counties. In Monmouth County, for example, moms take in an average of about $39,000 less than men without kids and $72,323 less than working fathers. Hunterdon, Sussex, Somerset, and Morris counties also recorded significantly wide gaps.

Do more for mothers

In its new report, the Center offers a few recommendations for employers and legislators on how to narrow the gap between working moms and their peers.

The report cites a loophole in the state's laws related to taking paid leave. Because job protection does not apply to smaller operations or employees who are relatively new to a job, many workers can be fired after being granted paid leave to care for a baby or loved one.

The report also calls for the establishment of a tax credit that may incentivize employers to provide child care for workers in some way.

And advocates want to see more fathers utilizing paternity leave — workplace culture in the U.S. often discourages dads from taking time off for a newborn.

"Whenever we have more equal distribution of care work in the home, that alleviates the constraints that women face in advancing in the labor market," Rodgers said.

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