How The Restaurant Industry Leaves Working Mothers Behind

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It’s hard to be a working mother in virtually every industry. But moms employed by restaurants are given particularly few tools to help them juggle work and family, according to a new report out Tuesday from the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC United).

The report looks at various working conditions — compensation, paid sick leave, and flexible scheduling among them — to determine what the life of an average mother working in the restaurant industry looks like. It finds an extremely difficult road for the more than two million mothers who make and serve food. The moms surveyed by ROC United clocked in 35 hours a week at their jobs, earning on average $7.65 an hour. Fifteen percent of moms said they held more than one job, as many as three, to try to pay the bills — hence the title of the report, The Third Shift.

And what are those bills? According to the survey, the mothers reported spending 35 percent of weekly earnings on childcare, while fewer than 7 percent received any kind of childcare assistance. As the report notes, “The average cost of child care for those surveyed was $87 a week for one child or $112 for all children.” But while the expense of childcare can be an overwhelming financial burden for moms, it’s often the only option. Sixty-eight percent of the moms said they would change their childcare arrangements if they could afford to, but inflexible work schedules and lack of money make it an impossibility. Half of all the mothers surveyed said they “suffered negative consequences at work when they arrived late or left early due to child care.” And most mothers were forced to lose pay or sacrifice their vacation in order to unexpectedly take care of a child.

As the economy slowly recovers from the 2008 recession, the low-wage workforce is growing in bounds, meaning that there’s likely to be an increasing number of parents in the restaurant industry. As their ranks grow, though, policies aren’t changing to match.

There are substantive policy options that could help alleviate unfair burdens on working mothers like those in the ROC report. An increased minimum wage would allow moms to afford childcare without stretching their money so thin. And paid sick leave policies could let moms care for their children when the need arose unexpectedly, without fearing they’d be fired or lose pay. ROC United suggests more public funding for childcare — one option for this would be expanding preschool programs — and more predictable schedules for workers as viable options.