Saturday, May 10, 2008

The Obligatory Mother's Day Post

You all know by know that I hate Mother's Day. I hate the schlock. I hate that instead of valuing the real work that women do (for free) we give flowers and cards one day of the year.

So I decided to figure out how much we really value mothers' work. We've all seen the calculators that say if moms were paid for all they do they'd make the same salary as doctors. But we don't actually pay moms like that. In fact, there is only one instance in this country where women are paid to stay home with their children. Welfare.

But welfare is temporary. Women with newborns have to start 40 hours a week of job searching when their child is just 12 weeks old. And Welfare doesn't exactly pay minimum wage.

In WA state the monthly TANF (new term for welfare since welfare to work program started) grant is $440 in cash for two people. And from personal experience that amount has been the same for at least 13 years. If you include food stamps, it's $607.

Let's just assume a mom on welfare works just 40 hours a week caring for her child. 607/ 4.3 (weeks in a month)/40 (hours in a week) and she gets about $3.53 per hour.

(And if you happen to be one of the 30% of custodial parents who receives child support in a timely fashion and you also happen to be on TANF- your child support will go to the state first to pay back your grant money. You *may* receive an extra $50 on top of TANF from your child support but you will not get the whole amount of both child support and TANF)

And WA is in the high middle as far as grant amounts go. Tennessee, at the bottom of the heap gives a family of two $142 in cash and a total of $398 if you include food stamps or about $2.31 per hour.

That is what motherhood is worth in this country, less than minimum wage.

Let's contrast that with the average monthly cost for infant daycare. In WA it's about $754. That's 20% more than the monthly TANF and food stamp grants combined. In TN it's about $412 per month, close but still more than TANF and food stamps.

Why, if mothering is such an important job, do we pay poor mothers so very little to do it?

Because the ideal has been set of the two parent family with a mom who stays home and sacrifices herself for the good of the kids. And sacrifice isn't really looked at as work. Sacrifice is religious term meaning to give up yourself for the good of others. But not just give up, but totally subvert any of your own desires.

And because the sacrificial mom is our ideal, we do not give poor mothers with no other resources as much money as someone who does their same job for fewer hours a day and fewer days per week. We don't expect strangers to sacrifice themselves. Actually, the only people we expect to sacrifice themselves completely are mothers.

But children are work. And the work that a mother puts into her children is not for her benefit. It is partially for her child's benefit, but it is mostly for societies benefit. We need children to grow up and be productive members of society. We need them to grow up to pay the taxes that will pay for social security. And now we need children to grow up and pay the taxes for our massive war debt. If we remove all the sentimentalism that has been attached to motherhood to make the sacrifice more palatable, then mothers are performing a vital function for society to continue. And they aren't paid for it. They are financially punished for it with lower wages ($11,000 less on average than non-mothers), higher expenses and less job security.

Because we don't value women, but we really don't value mothers.

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