MomsRising Looks to Future of Moms in US, NC
Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, MomsRising executive director and CEO
Affordable, quality child care. Health insurance for all. Paid family leave. Paid sick days. These important issues for mothers have been pushed to center stage by MomsRising, a national advocacy group for mothers and children celebrating its 10th anniversary this year.
Conceived by two moms who believe mothers can bring about change by working together, the group has grown to 1.3 million members nationwide, including 40,000 in North Carolina. Carolina Parent web editor Odile Fredericks spoke with the group’s executive director and CEO, Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, and its North Carolina Campaign director, Beth Messersmith, about where MomsRising is headed and how they hope to improve life for families in the U.S. and North Carolina.
CP: Congratulations on the 10th anniversary of MomsRising. So what do you think has been some of the biggest achievements for MomsRising?
Kristin: In the past 10 years, MomsRising helped pass the Affordable Care Act. Our members made over 600,000 constituent contacts just in the couple months leading up to the final vote. Our members helped move forward the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act. Our members have helped move forward paid Family Leave policies in cities, counties and states across the nation, have helped pass affordable childcare policies in red and blue states alike, have also helped advance sick day policies in over a dozen cities and states across the nation, as well. In addition, the MomsRising members have helped get every child in elementary, middle school and high school access to healthier foods in school, as well as get junk food marketing out of the schools so that kids have healthier food options while they are in school. And also, MomsRising members, just most recently, have helped get healthier options on fast food restaurant menus. That is just the beginning of the list of what moms have accomplished across the country in the past 10 years. The important thing to take away from this is that the voices of moms are incredibly powerful, and we find that when moms share their stories, share their experiences and speak out to elected leaders, that big changes happen.
CP: I see that you were the co-founder, who was the other founder? And just briefly, could you tell me how you started it and how it grew to be so widespread?
Kristin: Joan Blades and I co-founded MomsRising in 2006, and we started because we co-wrote a book, "The Motherhood Manifesto," together, which also got turned into a documentary film. And we decided that the next step after that was to work for change, so a handful of moms came together, and that handful of moms told a handful of moms, and through moms telling moms, and friends telling friends, we are well over a million members, including about 40,000 members in North Carolina. We have members in every state in the nation, and we also have over 5 million readers (that’s our combined social media). And blogging reach is over 5 million readers. We have over 3,000 bloggers, and we also have a radio show that has hundreds of thousands of listeners in multiple states.
CP: What do you think is the biggest issue facing families in North Carolina and the U.S.?
Kristin: I would love to answer (for) the nation and have Beth (Messersmith) answer (for) North Carolina. In terms of what is happening now in America, being a mom is a greater predictor of wage and hiring discrimination than being a woman. So one of the biggest things facing moms in America right now is that three-quarters of moms are either the primary or the co-bread winner in the families, but moms in particular still are not making equal pay for equal work. So we know that policies like paid family leave after a new baby arrives — which the U.S. is the only industrialized country in the world not to have in place — are critical to helping to close that wage gap, as well as fair pay policies, sick day policies and affordable childcare policies. All (of this) not only lift(s) families and kids and the economy, but also help(s) close the wage gap between moms and non-moms.
CP: So what is MomsRising trying to do about this particular issue? Are you lobbying?
Kristin: MomsRising is working on all of those family economic security policy priorities in cities, counties and states across the country, educating leaders about what’s happening with moms, and educating the media, as well as reaching out to moms and letting them know that they’re not alone in their struggle, and that together, they can make change. And we are also working at the federal level with Congress.
CP: So where is MomsRising headed now? What do you foresee, or aspire to, for the next 10 years?
Kristin: MomsRising is still rapidly growing, both in our membership, as well as in our readership. And we are seeing policies that, when we started, weren’t on center stage as the economic priorities for our nation that they are, are now on the center stage. Paid family leave has been talked about by Democratic and Republican leaders alike in the last several months. We are seeing our policies really starting to break through. So momentum is tremendously growing on these policies, and I hope in the next 10 years, we finally have paid family leave for everyone in the United States of America.
Right now, we only 13 percent of people have access to some form of paid family leave, and 5 percent of low-wage workers do. Now, because of the momentum that moms have built, it is no longer a question of “if” but “when” policies like paid family leave pass, because studies show that they are in fact good for businesses — for the economy and for families. And in the next 10 years, I imagine we will also see it pass.
In addition, access to affordable childcare is gaining momentum. We know that when there is a return on investment of every $1 in, there is $8 back later, at a minimum. So I expect to see more places pass access to high-quality, affordable childcare. Similarly, sick days, 80 percent of low-wage workers can’t earn a single paid sick day, but we know that the cost of “presentism” is greater to businesses than of having sick days, so I expect that to pass in the next 10 years. We are really seeing the voices of moms gain momentum and gain power, and in the next 10 years, we’ll see many of these policies win at the federal level and state level because of the voices of moms.
Beth Messersmith photo courtesy of Beth Messersmith
Beth Messersmith on the State of Families in NC
CP: What do you think is the biggest issue facing North Carolina families now?
Beth Messersmith: I think it is economic security broadly, a key part of which is access to affordable childcare. It costs more than $9,000 a year on average to send children to child care centers, which is more than yearly full-time, in-state tuition at N.C. State University. But I think it’s also realistic wages, the lack of paid sick days and paid leave, which all add up to making a really difficult economic situation for families in North Carolina. That means that if their child is sick they cannot afford to stay home and care for them. That is a tremendous issue for families. And the vast majority of us don’t have any paid family leave.
CP: Why is Smart Start important? I know Kristin is in town to talk at Smart Start conference?
Beth Messersmith: So we think that Smart Start and early learning, the investments that we make in early childhood, for every dollar invested economists say that there is an $8 to $12 return on investment because it makes such a tremendous difference in terms of long-term wages, success in school, keeping people out of the criminal justice system. The very best investments that we can make are in those first 0-3/0-5 years. And we know that for success at the third-grade level, whether a child has access to pre-K is incredibly important. So there are benefits. But in North Carolina, most parents work outside of the home, so it’s the children who need to be learning, but the parents also need to know that their children are in safe places while they are at work — that they are benefiting and thriving. So it serves dual purposes both for the children and then for the family’s economic security.
CP: What can parents do to help with these issues?
Beth Messersmith: So we’d love to have them sign up at MomsRising.org, and that way they will get alerts when these issues are coming up. But the other thing is we are going to be hosting meetups across the state, starting this summer and running for the rest of the year, gathering people together in their own communities, with whatever time they have, to talk about these issues and how they are affecting their lives and connecting their own personal situations to policies. So, we would love for them to get involved in that way.