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THE VALUE OF STAYING HOME WITH KIDS

More and more men are staying home and taking care of the children while the wife works, but the fact remains that women still outnumber men when it comes to being the ones who leave their jobs to be domestic caretakers.

They do sometimes return to work, but experts say that dropping out of the work force can adversely affect a woman's long-term financial health, especially concerning Social Security and other benefits. How will a woman who has spent a few to several years being the family caregiver fare when she's 65? Or, how would she fight for her "value" in the case of separation or divorce.

It's difficult to determine what the compensation for someone who is a primary caregiver with no outside income would be. It depends on whom you ask.

Economists look at two different methods of placing dollar values on a person's time, according to Frederick Floss, a professor of economics and finance at Buffalo State College and co-director of the Center for Economic Education. One method of placing dollar values is to determine "replacement costs" -- measuring how many minutes are spent doing a particular task and examining it in the context of a comparable job.

Another method is to determine "opportunity costs," which indicate the true cost of a service. For example, if you're trying to compensate someone for buying apples at the store, it does not involve only the price of the apples. It is also the time involved, transportation and everything else it took to get that apple. "Opportunity costs" is one way of valuing services that does not have a single wage attached.

This is important for women, Floss said, because often we do not look at the "opportunity costs," in terms of benefits, future pension and how taking five years off from work for caretaking purposes -- whether it is for children or the elderly -- will affect a woman's retirement fund. As a result, when those women retire they tend to be poorer than their male counterparts.

This is not the scenario Jayne Harnisch wants.

Harnisch is a family child-care provider caring for her 2-year-old niece, and a former import specialist for the U.S. Customs Service. In her opinion, there has been an expectation for women to not only work outside the home, providing half or more of the income, but to also cook the meals, clean the house, and do the laundry.

"It doesn't occur to (husbands) that there is a great deal of inequality in that assumption," said Harnisch. The Buffalo resident added that she believes women who are charged with domestic responsibilities should be compensated. And she's right.

Harnisch is compensated $2 to $4 an hour to raise a healthy, productive child. That is, her niece. Her decision to leave her Customs job wasn't easy, but she felt it was necessary for personal reasons. Luckily, her husband can support the family.

For her part, Harnisch is far too aware that being a family child-care provider is an undervalued service in our society -- even though it is a job that involves shaping future generations.

Whenever a woman decides to stay home for caretaking reasons, the spouse or counterpart should be willing to pick up the slack. As for women, we need to empower ourselves. For those of us who decide to stay home, serious consideration should be given to long-term ramifications.

When it comes to nurturing and raising future generations, what could be more important? Domestic caregiving should be properly compensated. The result will not only benefit many stay-at-home moms but also the growing number of stay-at-home dads.

e-mail: dbracely@buffnews.com

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