A Mother’s Day question: Do we really value moms?

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This year many Iowans and Americans will splurge on Mother’s Day gifts.

Consumers told the National Retail Federation that their spending will be high — an average $186.39 per mom, which is a roughly $15 increase from last year. If shoppers do what they plan, the nation will experience record-breaking sales for Mother’s Day. Nationwide, spending is expected to reach $23.6 billion.

According to the NRF survey conducted by Prosper Insights & Analytics, consumers plan to spend $5 billion on jewelry, $4.2 billion on special outings, $2.6 billion on flowers, $2.5 billion on gift cards, $2.1 billion on clothing, $2 billion on consumer electronics and $1.9 billion on personal services like spa visits.

“Consumers are planning to open up their wallets a little bit more to celebrate the women with the most important jobs in the world on Mother’s Day,” Prosper Principal Analyst Pam Goodfellow said. “We will see older Millennials (25-34) spend the most, and younger consumers are putting their online shopping skills to good use to purchase their moms the perfect gift.”

Obviously, American consumers value moms. But American policy isn’t nearly so generous.

There is no guarantee under law of paid leave from work after childbirth or adoption, for men or women. The federal Family and Medical Leave Act guarantees time off from work without pay, but the way it’s constructed makes about half U.S. workers ineligible.

And, yes, Americans are outliers in this area. Out of the 185 countries and territories surveyed in 2014 by the International Labor Organization, 183 offer paid maternity leave. Only the U.S. and Papua New Guinea do not.

As the women who pioneered the study into paid parental leave policies outlined in their 2010 book, “Raising the Global Floor,” an investment in parents pays off for businesses, local economies and public health. Businesses see increased productivity, and lowered workforce turnover. Society gets lower infant mortality rates, fewer incidents of postpartum depression, higher rates of immunization and increased breastfeeding.

Three U.S. states — California, New Jersey and Rhode Island — have paid parental leave policies, and some U.S. companies do voluntarily offer it, but it is difficult to know how many. Programs in those states, funded by employee payroll deductions, show that paid leave imposes few burdens on businesses, while providing significant benefits.

It makes little sense that the nation hasn’t followed the lead of these states, especially since Americans widely support paid family and medical leave.

As the latest Iowa General Assembly laid bare, we enjoy giving lip service to mothers, like having this one day to show how much we care. But if we truly valued mothers (and fathers) we’d advocate for and enact policies that benefit families throughout the year.

Our state and nation suffers from public devaluation of the people who care for others.

So, my family can skip the jewelry and flowers. What I really want is public policy that honors the foundational role of families and invests in caregivers. I’m also open to public displays of affection from my teenagers. I won’t be holding my breath for either.

This column by Lynda Waddington originally published in The Gazette on May 14, 2017. Photo credit: Liz  Martin/The Gazette