Mom and baby

(WOMENSENEWS)–Mother’s Day is almost here again.

Every year around this time, we hear about the enormous–and unpaid–contributions moms make to their families and communities.

News outlets thank us by calculating the purported value of mothers’ round-the-clock work. Last year, estimated that the average stay-at-home mother could earn a paycheck of some $120,000 if she outsourced the housekeeping, the cooking, the event planning and all the rest that goes into making a home and family run.

Grateful kids can even made out to their moms, customized according to the ages of her children, her status in the paid workforce and her geographic location.

I’ll take it, even if it is a gimmick. As a working mother of two in northern Virginia, my missing paycheck added up to more than $77,000, money I could sure use to put toward retirement, a carpool-size car or that Caribbean vacation I’ve been dreaming of ever since my kids were born. If I can’t have the money, at least I know what all this work is worth.

This Mother’s Day, we should all print them out as reminders of how much our society exploits mothers and caregivers–at enormous expense to our families, our society, our world.

The price of motherhood is, as Ann Crittenden wrote in her eponymous book, incredibly high. Having a baby is, as she put it, "the single worst financial decision an American woman can make."

There’s nothing like the "fatherhood bonus" for moms. To the contrary, moms hit the "maternal wall," get slammed with the "mommy-tax" and pay the "motherhood penalty." Mothers have more difficulty advancing in their careers, don’t get paid as much as women without children, men or men with children and lose big for taking time out of the workforce to care for the family.

Given all that, it’s no surprise that only 14 percent of the most powerful leaders in the United States are mothers, according to an released .

It Gets Worse

The bad news doesn’t end there. Many moms risk poverty if they get a divorce, thanks to laws that still fail to provide sufficient protections for stay-at-home caregivers. Unlike nannies or other professional caregivers, moms do not accrue Social Security credits for caregiving, which penalizes them in old age. And single mothers have it worst of all; more than half (52 percent) live in extreme poverty, with incomes below half the federal poverty level, according to the .

Of course, it does us no good if mothers–and their children–are struggling to get by.

Riane Eisler, author of "The Real Wealth of Nations: Creating a Caring Economics" and president of the Center for Partnership Studies, is working to turn around these sobering stats.

Flowers, brunches and cards are fine, but she’d like moms to have something they really need: social supports and workplace policies that better enable them to earn real paychecks, and fatter ones, while caring for their families.

Toward that end, Eisler aims to measure the U.S. investment in caregiving–the critical work that mothers and others do to develop the capacities humans need to thrive as individuals, employees and members of society, the very capacities that make the world go round.

A key step is to reform contemporary economic indicators such as the gross domestic product (GDP), which fails to account for the value of the immense care work that takes place in homes and communities across this nation. If we don’t measure the value of caregiving work, we won’t value it, she reasons. And if we don’t value it, society certainly won’t support it.

The Caring Economy Campaign, founded by Riane Eisler, aims to measure the value of care work so society will better support it. To do that, the campaign recently released the "Social Wealth Economic Indicators (SWEIs)," which measure the value of care work for children, the elderly and others. The data behind the indicators was pulled from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the World Health Organization and the United Nations.

Key Driver of Economy

The SWEIs show that care work–systematically under-paid and under-valued and performed primarily by women–is a "key driver" of the economy. If economists included care work in their calculations, Eisler estimates, the nation’s GDP would grow by 30 to 50 percent.

They are needed to spur the public and private sectors to enact policies that support care work such as more investment in child care and early childhood education, programs that support work-life balance such as paid parental leave and family-friendly workplaces.

"SWEIs show the impact of a gendered system of values that marginalizes so-called women’s issues and at the same time devalues anything stereotypically associated with women or the ‘feminine’–such as care work–whether performed by women or men," a recent report states. "They highlight the fact that worldwide, women are the poorest of the poor and the mass of the poor and show that women’s disproportionate poverty rates, and with these, child poverty rates, can be massively reduced through policies that support the work of care."

Using SWEIs will help "encourage the fair, the free and socially just society that is the promise of the United States," said Valerie Young, outreach director for the Caring Economy Campaign and public policy analyst at Mom-mentum, in an email interview. "Public investment in pro-family policies decreases public expenditures in incarceration, welfare assistance and health care costs. When women and men approach parity in income, political leadership and the unpaid domestic work necessary for all human endeavor, data collection shows that democracies are stronger, economies expand and individual potential is promoted."

Eisler added in an interview: "If you can itemize the economic value of raising children, then you can say, ‘This is really worthwhile stuff.’ The main thing is to start."

I’m with Eisler. Let’s start. Let’s start making all that invisible caregiving work easier to see, and easier to support. This Mother’s Day, let’s start really valuing mothers.

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