by Riane Eisler and Kimberly Otis
Valentine’s Day is all about love. But the sad reality is that all the love women give as caregivers, both paid and unpaid, is not really valued – even though it’s indispensable for families, businesses, and the country as a whole. It’s high time we change this!
U. S. Census figures show that American women over the age of 65 are twice as likely to be poor as men of the same age. This is not only due to workplace discrimination. It’s because most of these women are or were either part or full time caregivers – and instead of pensions their reward is an old-age of poverty.
Even when caregiving work is done for pay, the wages are minimal. According to the U.S. Labor Department, the average pay for child care workers – the people to whom we entrust children -- is $10 per hour, with no benefits. By contrast, plumbers – the people to whom we entrust pipes – get $50 to 100 per hour. And we insist plumbers be trained, but not that all childcare workers be trained. This is not logical. It’s pathological.
It does not have to be this way. In Montreal, Canada, for example, because child care is government subsidized, it costs parents only $7 per day and is performed by highly trained, well-paid professionals. Not only that, Canada has maternal leave while the U.S. now stands as the only industrialized county in the world that does not ensure any type of paid leave for new mothers.
We’re told that our wealthy nation can’t afford to invest in such things. Actually, we can’t afford not to do so. In the post-manufacturing, knowledge/service era, our most important asset is what economists call “high quality human capital.” Neuroscience shows that the development of this high quality human capital largely depends on good physical, mental, and emotional care starting at birth. Study after study shows that high quality early childhood education is the best financial investments a nation can make. Economic inventions such as caregiver tax-credits, stipends to families, paid parental leave (for both mothers and fathers), and social security credit for the first seven years of caring for a child – whether the caregiver is a woman or a man – are already being used or developed in nations where “women’s rights” have made the most progress.
Societies where women have higher status and are almost half of the government (such as Sweden, Norway, and Finland), give more fiscal priority to caring policies AND regularly are in the highest ranks of both the U.N. Human Development Reports and the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness ratings. Moreover, these nations have fared better at weathering the great recession.
This is all well known, but ignored by many policy-makers, who instead clamor for cuts in childcare and education. The Administration continues to focus on expanding jobs in manufacturing and in repairing our physical infrastructure – overlooking our human infrastructure, the needs of children and a growing elderly population, skyrocketing U.S. poverty rates (21 percent for all children and almost 40 percent for African American children), and that women are actually losing jobs even as unemployment rates are beginning to decrease.
“Although men lost 70 percent of the 7.5 million jobs that were eliminated between December 2007 and June 2009, men have won 92 percent of the 1.9 million jobs that have been created since then,“ Laura Flanders noted in a recent article, Rocky Recovery for Women. “From “man-cession” we’ve gone to “man-covery. One reason is that women represent 57 percent of workers in the public sector (compared with 48 percent in the private sector, where the gains are).”
Yet these public sector jobs are the ones our nation simply cannot afford to do without: the jobs of teachers, child care workers, health care workers, social workers, and others working in the growing “care economy” that are essential not only for human well-being, but also for our economic prosperity
Let’s use Valentine’s Day to tell our policy makers, including political candidates in both parties, that we demand a caring economy where the loving work of caregiving – whether done by a woman or a man -- is adequately rewarded in both our homes and workplaces.