Should moms get a fat monthly check from the government? Reshma Saujani, the founder of Girls Who Code, proposes just that, in an opinion piece getting a lot of buzz this week. “In the last year, we’ve confirmed that in the eyes of policy makers, [mothers’] labor has no economic value whatsoever—that it’s worth exactly zero dollars,” she writes.
Preach. At this moment, she’s reaching the choir: I’m typing these words at 11 p.m., after my children finally (finally) went to sleep, following a day that included shepherding them through 12 Zoom classes and dragging my son through not nearly enough of his homework, plus my own job. And housework. And outdoor play. And cooking. And kiddie art. And a creek walk. And more housework. (Did you know that when kids are home 24-7, you have to turn your body into a perpetual cleaning robot, and the house is still a trash fire?) My pandemic days—and late nights and early mornings—are an endless tube of tasks and care taking that is almost too bananas to articulate.
And I’m on the privileged end of American motherhood (working from home, stable, healthy, employed). Which leads us to Saujani’s plan and why it could be so instrumental in helping mothers from all socioeconomic backgrounds. Here are the details:
- The Cash: $2,400 per month. Note that this is roughly $5 an hour, and even less for parents who are up at night.
- The Justification: This is more than reasonable payback for the dearth of parental leave, affordable childcare, and pay equity, which Saujani says are “long overdue.”
- The Leader: Melina Gates, who last week suggested that the United States needs a caregiving czar
- The Format: Marshall Plan for Moms. For those rusty on their mid-century foreign policy, the Marshall Plan was a U.S. aid program to Western Europe that financed rebuilding after the decimation of World War II.
Women’s careers have indeed been decimated this year (choir here, again), resulting in lost wages, stifled career advancement, and in many cases, a difficult path back onto one’s pre-pandemic career trajectory. Many women may not make it back into the workforce at all. Saujani sees exhausted mothers on Zoom every day, logging in their toddlers for preschool.
“Every woman in America is familiar with these scenes,” she writes. “But are our leaders? Are our legislators? . . . Do they even care? Judging from the near total lack of government support provided to women and moms during the Covid-19 crisis the answer seems to be a resounding ‘no.'” Amen.
She is not the first to suggest paying mothers. Last year Democratic Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado proposed the American Family Act of 2019, which included a $250- to $300-per-month payment per child. It was cosponsored by senators Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Cory Booker, among others; Sanders and Warren have previously proposed other payments to parents. Varieties of the concept have ebbed and flowed for decades; a century ago, the U.S. paid single mothers pensions to facilitate home care.
“The caregiving system in the United States is broken, and it is women who are paying the price,” Gates wrote in the Washington Post. And whaddya know, there is a way to compensate for that.