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Telling Moms They Should Stay At Home Hurts Moms Who Stay Home

Photograph by Twenty20

In case you missed it, Utah Republican James Green recently spoke out about equal pay in a letter to the editor. However, unlike most reasonable people—including lawmakers from his own party—Green spoke out against equal pay. That's right, Green believes women shouldn't be paid the same as man for doing the exact same work. And his reasons were astounding:

Responding to Senate Bill 210, a Republican-sponsored State bill that not only requires certain employers to adopt uniform compensation criteria but also commissions a study to analyze wage disparities among men and women, Green complained that "if businesses are forced to pay women the same as male earnings, that means they will have to reduce the pay for the men they employ, simple economics."

Completely outdated and totally outrageous economics is probably more like it.

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Green bases his argument on the idea that men are "traditionally...the primary breadwinners for families." They need big, manly salaries so that the "Mother [can] remain in the home to raise and nurture the children." But when women enter the workforce, there is greater competition for jobs—"even men's jobs," says Green (whatever the hell that means). Then, because of those "simple economics," wages decrease, and women are forced to leave home and enter the workforce, "and that is bad for families and thus for all of society."

Setting aside Green's creepy capitalization of the word 'Mother' (seriously, what is that?!), his argument is deeply flawed. There is no reason that businesses must reduce pay for men if they are forced to pay equal pay for equal work—not unless they endorse gender-based wage discrimination. And there are plenty of women breadwinners in the United States, including many single mothers, who are often the sole earners in their family. To suggest that they, or any other woman, do not deserve equal pay for equal work is unconscionable.

So for many people—and many mothers—staying at home isn't so much a choice as it is a necessity.

But Green also misunderstands, and likely chooses to ignore, one other glaring problem in the United States: We have woefully inadequate childcare options for working parents in this country.

The cost of childcare itself is exorbitant. According to the Care Index, the average cost of full-time childcare in the United States is higher than the average cost of in-state college tuition. Nationally, full-time childcare costs more than 85 percent of the monthly U.S. median cost of rent. In some states, it costs more than the average cost of rent itself. So for many people—and many mothers—staying at home isn't so much a choice as it is a necessity.

Childcare cost isn't the only hurdle that many parents face, either. According an analysis of childcare centers by zip codes in eight different states, the Center for American Progress concluded that 48 percent of the areas in its survey were "childcare deserts": that is, areas where there were not enough quality childcare options to meet the potential demand.

RELATED: Quality Childcare Isn't Just Unaffordable, It's Also Hard to Find

So when people like Green tell women that they should stay at home—to protect "men's jobs" and wages, to preserve the role of the family breadwinner, to let the free market do its job—they excuse society of its responsibility to invest in quality, affordable childcare. They undermine the strides we've made in terms of equal education and, yes, equal pay. And they make the choice to be a stay-at-home mother not a choice at all, but a default.

Women who choose to stay at home with their children are more than mere default caregivers. They deserve far more respect than that. What's more, women who must stay at home—who are forced into this choice because of a lack of childcare options—deserve more respect than the "women are supposed to be nurturers" line that Green and others are feeding them.

And that's precisely what's so infuriating about Green's message: The issue of equal pay is not only about simple economics. It's not only about equal wages, either. It's also about respect. And women and men, and whatever work they choose to do, deserve that—equally.

There is at least one bit of good news from this whole fiasco. After sparking so much outrage—including from members of his own party—Green has now resigned from his post as Vice-Chair of Wasatch County's Republican Party.

Equal Pay: 1, Straight-up 1950's sexism: 0.

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