By Heather Brown

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Mothers were hit hard by the pandemic. According to the National Women’s Law Center, more than 2 million women left the workforce. Now, one group is proposing a “Marshall Plan for Moms” that would include paid parental leave, affordable childcare, pay equity, and a direct payment of $2,400 per month.

But what is a mother’s work worth?

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“I think it’s a really good question,” said Colleen Flaherty Manchester, a professor of economics at the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota. “We’re at this work all the time and so many people are doing this work, and it’s really important so it seems like it should be really valuable.”

This isn’t a simple question to answer. When WCCO asked people in the grocery store to choose a number, their answers ranged from priceless to billions of dollars.

One man said: “My grandma always said, ‘As long as I’m alive, I’ll never be broke, because you owe me a lot!’”

There are several ways to attempt to attach a value to women’s unpaid work. Salary.com came up with $184,820/year. They surveyed mothers about their hours and then attached the going wages for jobs like teachers, nutrition director, COO and laundry manager.

Insurance information website Insure used a similar methodology in its calculation of 116,022/year.

Manchester said there are several ways to make this calculation.

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“A different approach would be thinking about the opportunity costs, so what else would that person be doing with their time,” she said. “What would they be able to earn with their skills, education, etcetera.”

She said that would be a lower-bound estimate.

Another lower-bound estimate would be similar to research from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.

The Fed used the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ estimate on women’s weekly unpaid work (26.7 hours) by the federal minimum wage ($7.25/hr) by 52 weeks. That equals $10,065 a year, which added up together is close to the entire amount of economic activity recorded in New York State.

Fahima Aziz, a University of Minnesota economist, said it’s important to consider this question because we’re not counting all the work that’s happening in the economy.

“If you can put a dollar amount on unpaid work, this could go into the calculation of the GDP,” she said. “There’s so much work happening in the economy, you can think about undocumented workers as well.”

She also finds these calculations important because of the lesser value placed on unpaid work, especially for women.

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“This is really going unnoticed, which is not fair,” she said.

Heather Brown