Mother's Day money advice

Working mothers, faced with growing financial responsibilities, can take steps to lighten their load.

American families celebrating Mother's Day next Sunday might take some time to reflect on the changing financial role that mothers play.

The days when mothers remained home to raise children are rapidly disappearing.

Today, most mothers hold jobs outside the home, assume the burden of caregiving for older family members, care for adult children and grandchildren, and increasingly support themselves in retirement.

According to the US Department of Labor Statistics, over 75 percent of mothers with children between the ages of 6 and 17 are in the workforce. In 1975, little more than half of mothers with school-age children worked outside the home.

Despite the rise of working moms, they face both gender inequality and employment discrimination in the workplace. In 2006, women earned an average $0.77 to every $1 of their equally educated male counterparts, according to the US Census Bureau. This inequity exists at all levels of the workforce.

In addition, mothers are at an apparent disadvantage when competing for jobs against women without kids. A 2005 study sponsored by Cornell University determined that, from equally qualified résumés, employers would hire 84 percent of women without children, compared with 47 percent of women who disclosed they were mothers. Once hired, mothers were offered $11,000 less for the same job compared with women who were not mothers.

Many moms work to build college funds for their childrens' educations, but their responsibilities do not end there. Among 2007 college grads, nearly half expected to "boomerang" home for at least a short period.

While greeting their college graduates back home, mothers also assume economic responsibilities for the care of an aging parent, grandparent, or relative. A 2008 study indicated that almost 3 out of 10 baby-boomer mothers now fit the term "sandwich generation," supporting a child under the age of 18 and a parent or grandparent.

Seventy-five percent of caregivers are women, assuming weighty financial obligations. Long-distance annual caregiver expenses were almost $9,000, with caregiver expenses for someone living nearby half that amount, according to a 2007 study by Evercare and the National Alliance for Care-giving. The majority of mothers will provide care for three or more years. And they frequently trade off a secure retirement to financially support an aging parent, taking out loans or increasing credit-card debt.

With a lifetime of increased financial responsibility, securing the financial resources to live comfortably and independently has become increasingly challenging. But mothers can take steps to meet these challenges. Among them:

Identify a benefits-rich job. Paid maternity leave, vacation, and healthcare benefits add both financial and family value. These may be as important as salary and are nontaxable.

Update your education and skills. Working mothers face greater résumé scrutiny – education gives you an edge.

Network, network, network. Don't neglect creating industry contacts – they are your next job.

Organize backup support for your child or elderly parent. Don't expect that you can work from home when your hired care-provider is unavailable.

Prioritize your retirement. Don't risk your retirement savings! All other goals are secondary. Set a reasonable target for supporting college funding for your children. Anticipate caregiver expenses and secure long-term care insurance for parents.

Certainly, motherhood is a marathon, not a sprint. And mothers need to take time – certainly more than one annual holiday – to care for themselves.

Dr. Kathleen Connell is a professor at Haas Graduate Business School, University of California, Berkeley.

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