Parents, every day, assume the role of nurse, chauffeur, personal shopper, housekeeper, chef and more. With those roles in mind, in fact, data from job search database Adzuna calculated that for all the jobs parents do, their annual salaries should be roughly $185,060. Instead, a parent's labor is generally not considered real work, but a duty — one that doesn’t come with a salary.
It's why many people are working to shift our culture in order to get parents paid for their very real work.
The radical idea of wages for housework was first proposed by a woman named Selma James — in 1972, at the third National Women's Liberation Conference in Manchester, England. James went on to build the international, multiracial network that now coordinates the Global Women's Strike, campaigning for a "care income" for all caregivers. It’s an issue that women, disproportionately the world’s caregivers, are at the center of.
When people are forced out of the workforce in order to raise their children, says James, they are economically disadvantaged and tied to others — like a partner — in order to survive, which, even in healthy partnerships, is a deprivation of economic freedom.
“When women have money of their own, they are more autonomous and can make more decisions, and I think better ones,” James tells Yahoo Life. “If you get remuneration in some form because of the work you are doing, you transform not only the nature of that work, but also the social value that is placed on it… That's what money does. It not only enriches you, but it enriches the value of what you are doing.”
In discussing what such a "care income" might include, James explains, it's important to know what the people of a community value — land as opposed to cash, for example. But while it’s always a good strategy to fight for "what’s on offer," such as tax credits, she says, what's most crucial is pushing for benefits of cash, as opposed to social services.
“Cash has value,” says James (slated to give a keynote speech at the upcoming End Women’s Poverty: A Guaranteed Care Income for People and Planet conference in Philadelphia). “I wish it didn’t, but it does, and if cash does have value, I want it — and I want everyone who is doing the same work as me, or similar work to build up society and nature … to have it, too.”
This was the tenor of a 2021 Global Women’s Strike letter to President Biden and vice president Kamala Harris, urging them to provide Child Tax Credits for mothers and other primary caregivers.
Reshma Saujani, founder and CEO of Moms First, a national non-profit advocating for public and private sector changes to advance women's economic freedom, also stresses the importance of getting money into the hands of parents. Like James, she points out that we “don’t value what we don’t pay for,” and “so as long as caregiving and household work is uncompensated, it’s basically invisible: It goes unnoticed, unappreciated and, worst of all, unsupported.”
When she first established Moms First (then known as the Marshall Plan for Moms) in 2021, Saujani, too, called for direct payments to mothers, who were “forced out of paid employment to essentially function as America’s social safety net, for free."
At the time, she says, "people would say ‘oh, but motherhood is a blessing!’ That’s true, and I know that better than anyone as a mother of two little boys I fought like hell to have. But motherhood is also a job, and the work that goes into it is real and deserving of not just admiration but compensation."
In the United States, Saujani notes, until the government steps up for these payments — by providing basic income or expanding the Child Tax Credit, for example — it’s vital that employers step up.
“Until the government acts, the number one thing employers can do to help parents is support them with child care,” she says. “Whether it’s in the form of flexibility, back-up care, on-site care, tuition stipends, there is no one-size fits all, but every company has got to be doing something. Moms First launched the National Business Coalition for Child Care, which is a first-of-its-kind coalition of companies from across industries who are leading on this issue. Together we are going to demonstrate that child care is a business imperative, not a personal problem, and expand the number of American workers with access to child care benefits.”
These economic conversations are even making their way onto social media. TikToker Autumn Lucy of Michigan, for example, typically shares shopping hauls, taste testing and recipe videos with her more than 425,000 followers. In a March video, however, she took time to share her belief in why stay-at -home parents should be compensated for the work they do inside the home.
“I think that at the very least, stay-at-home parents should earn the equivalent of working full-time on minimum wage,” she tells Yahoo Life about what inspired her to make the video. “In Michigan, this would be about $1,600 a month. However, I think to really make this work you should offer all parents either a monthly [stay-at-home parent] stipend or a voucher for free daycare. This would allow parents to have more freedom to make the decision that will work best for their family without sacrificing their career, if they would like to continue working.”
As a mom to a six-month-old, Lucy adds, “Often when I discuss this, the argument I hear against it is that ‘You shouldn't be paid to raise your own children.’ To characterize this compensation as being paid to raise your child heavily implies that parents that work outside of the home are not raising their children. Whether working outside the home or inside the home, we are all raising our children. However, only the parents working outside of the home are being compensated for the time spent working.”
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