When Mitt Romney said that 47 percent of the people in this country are essentially deadbeats who don't pay income taxes, he painted a lot of people with a broad stroke. He called them "Obama supporters" but we all know who they really are. They are the poor, the unemployed, and wait ... what? The stay-at-home moms? That's right.
Romney's comments are particularly galling given that just a few months ago, Romney was all about the stay-at-home moms of the world and all of their "hard work." He was right the first time. There are people in our country who don't make a lot of money or contribute directly to income tax coffers; however, they still contribute in profound ways to our economy. It's just less visible and grossly undervalued in our society.
Hypocrisy, thy name is Romney.
The fact is, our economic strength isn't just based on money. It's also based on people. We need to think about the contribution of those people ... and perhaps more importantly, the unpaid contributions of the women who raise those people. As a country, we would be remiss to just write them off.
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"Parents who invest their time, energy, and love into their children are creating the most valuable economic commodity: human capital," says Valerie Young, advocacy coordinator for the National Association of Mothers' Centers and blogger with Woman in Washington. "This human capital, in time, will mature into the movers and shakers, producers, consumers, visionaries, artists, inventors, in other words, all the people in our society, whose potential is unlimited."
Of course, Young is talking about moms (and some dads, too) and all the hard unpaid work we do raising our children to be contributing members of society. Sadly, that work is notoriously invisible in our country (there is a reason women over 65 are twice as likely to be poor as men of the same age). Ann Crittenden, the author of The Price of Motherhood: Why the Most Important Job in the World Is Still the Least Valued, says: "The work of mothers remains invisible, invisible, invisible. Money is all that counts for people. Nevermind your social contribution."
And what might useful social contributions look like? Well, many stay-at-home mothers devote their time, energy, and mental resources toward raising well-adjusted, creative children with healthy attachments. They are ultimately creating people who will give back in critically meaningful ways. These moms may not be hedge fund managers, but they may have a hand in producing something far more useful than a big wad of cash.
That said, creating people takes investment on the part of our society. We can't just sit back and expect this work to continue without resources, policies, or programs to help. Romney wants to brush non-earners off, toss them aside as a lost cause. That would be a huge mistake. In fact, "Studies show that early childhood education has a 600 percent return," says Kim Otis, director of the Center for Partnership Studies (CPS), an organization that advocates for looking at our economy in news ways and for measuring the "human capital."
And who is educating our kids in the earliest years? It's us moms. Many moms may not be paying taxes directly, but we get better returns on OUR investments. Why isn't Romney talking about that? As mothers, of daughters AND of sons, we should be deeply concerned that Romney talks a great game about caring for stay-at-home moms and in the next breath lumps them in with lazy, greedy, entitled tax evaders that make up a small portion of the "47 percent."
Women who stay home with kids DO contribute in many, many ways. This isn't made-up mumbo jumbo designed to pat moms on the head and say, Wow, good job in a patronizing way. This is real. It's quantifiable, though maybe not in the way we are used to. People are what matters, the work that they do is what matters, not how much every person contributes in dollars and cents.
If we ignore the people whose contributions do not pay taxes, our country will fail. We can't afford such short-sightedness. As Riane Eisler, the author of The Chalice and the Blade and the co-founder of CPS, says: "Once you recognize that social capital has intrinsic economic value, then you have to change your policies. You have to have policies that support this work."
Will we ever?
Which candidate do you think has policies that support the needs of stay-at-home moms?