Thursday, January 16, 2014

Calculating What SAHMs (and dads) Are Worth

Someone just posted this graphic to facebook - that the average stay-at-home-mom is doing labor that in the paying market would be worth over $113K.  (They compare it to a second graphic that shows "Working Mom" as earning only around $67K.)

My immediately thought is that is bullshit. I know what day care workers, housekeepers, and drivers (which is most of what stay-at-home-parents do) get paid, and they sure as hell don't make six figures!

After looking closer at the details, I see how they get at such an inflated number. Basically they consider a bunch of stuff that typical stay-at-home-parents do as highly skilled (and thus highly paid) labor such as Facilities Manager and Psychologist.

I don't know if the people who created this are trying to be funny, but obviously it's bullshit to just state that stay-at-home parents do that sort of work when they have no professional training or experience in those fields and certainly couldn't just go out and get a job doing that sort of work.

Also, that's just an inaccurate description of what stay-at-home parents are doing. For instance, just because I have heart to heart chats with my close friends about relationships, hopes, and fears, and my friends' mental health might improve because of those chats, doesn't mean that I qualify as a mental health professional and that hanging out with me is worth an hourly rate of $38.02.

So I can't take it seriously. But if this is meant to be funny, I don't get why this is a subject to treat so lightly.

Divorce rates are still high, and it is well documented fact that single women with kids are disproportionately represented under the poverty line and while fathers tend to do better financially after a divorce, mothers tend to do worse. Of course the explanation behind these trends are that mothers tend to be the ones to put more time into childcare and domestic chores in a marriage, which means that they are sacrificing their long-term and future career while their spouse is benefiting from their labor. It works out fine if they stay married because as a family they can regard the working parent's paycheck as something they earned (and will spend) together. But if they divorce, the one who stayed home is screwed. provies a calculator where you can work out what your additional labor as a parent is supposedly worth. I tried to be more realistic about what I do as a SAHM, and came up with this list of duties:

Housekeeper 624 hours at a rate of $10.49
Cook 416 hours at a rate of $13.97
Day Care Center Teacher 2,184 hours at a rate of $13.47
Van Driver 364 hours at a rate of $14.02
Laundry Machine Operator 156 hours at a rate of $10.25

Total salary for the year of $59,188.

Are you fucking kidding me? More feel-good bullshit. After all, the average nanny makes less than half that.

My calculation is so high partially because it takes overtime pay into account, despite the fact that no day care workers, cooks, van drivers, or laundry machine operators are raking in mad overtime hours with time and a half. Hell, these days they are lucky if they can score a job that's full time.

It is the norm - in this shitty economy with growing wealth disparity - for every working class stiff to do all kinds of extra labor for no extra pay. Commuting. Balancing schedules for multiple jobs. Coordinating work schedules with those of our spouses and kids. So how can we say all this extra work is worth any money when nobody is actually getting paid for it?

My own modest calculation is really even less than $59K because you have to figure that about half of that housework, cooking, and laundry I'd be doing even if I didn't have children. So let's knock off about ten grand and then we say that as a SAHM I'm, in theory, worth about $50,000. Yeah right.

That is more than I could make if I didn't have kids and was just working full time in my profession (artist/teacher). Of course in reality I'm not making jack shit because being a stay-at-home-parent pays nothing.

So gee, thanks for reminding me of how much work I do for zero pay, and how much I'm financially falling behind every year, despite all the work I do. Checks for imaginary money always makes people feel great!

How about instead of living in lala land we acknowledge that this is a shitty situation. That too many people in America either work way too hard for barely enough pay, or live in poverty or totally dependent on the generosity of relatives because they can't find work that pays a living wage. That we don't as a society put a real value on the work of parents who are rearing the next generation.

This isn't a topic that calls for cutesy graphics and fake checks. We need to decide what sort of society we want to be part of, and take steps to achieve that vision. A good start would be increases instead of cuts for food stamps, subsidized day care and preschool for all Americans. And next would be truly universal health care that is simple and easy to use. We've got a long way to go before I actually feel like I live in a society where what I do is "worth" $59,000.

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