Here’s a tip for any working mum looking to focus on her career: don’t delete the cost of childcare from your salary when thinking about how much you’ll earn.
I’ve heard that one from a number of senior leaders recently, who when asked their best advice for working mothers recommend they deduct the cost of childcare from their partner’s salary instead of their own, in order to more fairly and equitably justify such expenses in a duel income household.
Childcare is horribly expensive. And the cost is just the first challenge parents encounter when looking to access such services. The inflexible and inaccessible nature of our system are also significant hurdles for parents.
But too often childcare is considered a mother’s expense, leaving many women feeling like they have to justify whether work’s something they need or simply desire to do. It means returning to work becomes a financial decision alone, with the costs of care measured against the monetary benefits of returning to work.
Being told you’re only earning just a few dollars an hour after childcare expenses are thrown in makes it feel like work’s a nice thing to do, rather than something necessary.
Research by the National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling and AMP has found mothers are losing up to 60% of their gross income upon returning to work when you include increases in tax, a loss of benefits and those childcare costs. According to the research, that means many mums are working for as little as $3.50 an hour
The research found childcare costs have jumped more than 150% in the past decade, with some long care childcare spots costing $170 a day (the average fee is $75, up from $30 in 2004). If you’re working full time and on the minimum wage of $16.40, subtracting the cost of childcare from your salary alone will see you taking home somewhere between $3.50 and $4.50 an hour. The report does not appear to be specifically referring to single parents.
The report has received significant media attention with a number of Sunday metropolitan papers leading with the story yesterday, outlining the real impact of childcare on working mums, but rarely mentioning the impact on fathers. Queensland’s Sunday Mail went so far as to headline their cover story piece with, “Slave Wage Mums”.
No matter who covered the story, the theme was the same: childcare costs are eating into mum’s salary; not dad’s.
Some reports likened the amount mums were taking home an hour after childcare expenses to the price of a coffee, seeing mothers being told that by returning to work and putting their kids in care, they’ll have the luxury of being able to buy themselves a coffee an hour.
Why shouldn’t fathers be told they’re earning just a few dollars after childcare expenses, enough for a cup of coffee (or perhaps even two at a well-priced cafe when the 17.5% gender paygap is included)?
Returning to work is not merely an immediate financial decision for women. But subtracting the cost of childcare from a mother’s earnings alone can certainly make it feel that way. And that’s just in the short-term.
Sustained periods out of the workforce will, unfortunately, cost women much more.
As well as loss in savings, including superannuation, there are the more difficult to measure costs associated with staying out of the workforce for a significant period of time, such as a loss of career development or promotion opportunities, a gap in knowledge development and confidence.
I like that tip from those senior business women, calculate the cost of childcare against your partner’s salary if you have one. And think about how much not returning to work will cost you in the long run.