By Fritz Esker, Louisiana Weekly

A new WalletHub study on the best and worst states for working moms ranked Louisiana dead last (51st out of 50 states and the District of Columbia).

Louisiana ranked consistently below average or worse in the metrics the survey used to judge states. The rankings were based on data collected from the U.S. Census Bureau, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Child Care Aware of America, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Council for Community and Economic Research, the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, the National Policy for Women & Families, and WalletHub’s own research.

The best places for working moms, in order, were Massachusetts, the District of Columbia, Connecticut, Vermont and Minnesota. The bottom five were South Carolina, Mississippi, Idaho, Alabama and Louisiana.

Louisiana ranked 48th in day-care quality, 29th in child-care costs (adjusted for median women’s salary), 35th in pediatricians per capita, 49th in gender pay gap, 41st in ratio of female executives to male executives, 34th in median women’s salary (adjusted for cost of living), 34th in female unemployment rate, 27th in parental-leave policy score, 38th in average length of a woman’s work week in hours, and 50th in percentage of single-mom families in poverty.

“It’s hard to think of anything that’s particularly good for working moms in Louisiana that isn’t just related to the general joy of being a mother,” said Latona Giwa, a local mother of two daughters (ages 11 months and 5 years) and founder of the Birthmark Doula Collective.

Jane Waldfogel, Compton Foundation Centennial Professor for the Prevention of Children’s and Youth Problems at the Columbia University School of Social Work, said in the study that paid leave (sick, family, and medical) and help with childcare costs were two important benefits employers could provide working mom employees.

“But not all companies do so, and it is the least advantaged employees who are least likely to have such employer benefits,” said Waldfogel. “So there is a lot for companies to do to expand coverage and make it more equitable. Companies can also take steps to make scheduling and work hours more predictable so that families can plan their childcare coverage and their budgets.”

Giwa was working as a registered nurse when her first daughter was born. She said she had to take unpaid maternity leave at that time. “I had to decide how much time I could afford to take off to heal and spend time with my child,” Giwa said.

Giwa also told the story of one of her clients who visited in January for a lactation appointment. This woman’s baby was born early in Lafayette, La., while she was working a long Lyft drive at 35 weeks pregnant. When she returned home to New Orleans, she began working as a Lyft driver again just a few days later with her newborn riding in the passenger’s seat because she could not afford to take any leave.

“I had to counsel her on how to breastfeed her baby and heal her body, while driving with strangers in the car during a pandemic!” Giwa said.

A February 2021 report from the National Women’s Law Center said over 2.3 million American women dropped completely out of the work force since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Giwa said in the past year, if a child even developed mild sniffles or a sore throat, they had to stay home. The same was also true of any daycare or childcare provider. The unpredictability posed a significant challenge for mothers.

“It felt like we were always scrambling to put something together,” Giwa said.

Makala Blake, a working mom and PR professional in New Orleans, said it was difficult to assist her oldest child (age 7) with virtual schooling while caring for her younger children (now ages 2 years and 10 months) and juggling her professional responsibilities. While virtual schooling was a challenge, Blake said the virtual world helped her in other ways.

“As the world reimagines and re-expands virtually, I’ve been able to find work beyond Louisiana (while staying in Louisiana),” Blake said.

When asked what state and local governments can do to bring moms back into the workforce, Waldfogel said, “We need to safely reopen our schools and childcare centers and develop contingency plans for future outbreaks, including more readily accessible help to cope with emergency closures – through both paid leave and help with childcare costs.”

Geoffrey L. Brown, associate professor of human development and family science at the University of Georgia, said in the study that better leave policies for working fathers would benefit working mothers and children as well.

“Unfortunately, men are somewhat less likely than women to take advantage of family leave policies even when they are offered in the workplace,” Brown said. “This is a real problem that makes it less likely that other companies or governments will devote resources to supporting fathers…We need to de-stigmatize fathers’ use of family-friendly policies.”

Giwa said the Birthmark Doula Collective does provide partially paid maternity leave to its employees, but that they cannot afford to offer fully paid maternity leave without government help.

“It’s a huge systemic issue we (the state of Louisiana) do not prioritize,” Giwa said. “It’s just a matter of priorities.”

This article originally published in The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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