PAUSING AND THE VALUE OF UNPAID LABOR
In the 1930s, when we developed economic benchmarks that would eventually evolve into the Gross Domestic Product (used by economists to determine the health of a country’s economy), the calculations only included the monetary value of goods and services that could be bought and sold. This meant that things like primary caregiving by an unpaid person (such as a stay-at-home mother) and volunteer work101 (like active school involvement, which is more often done by women) was not included in the “scorecard of capitalism”102
By the 1950s, the entire world used our same statistical model to evaluate their own economies. This model completely kept what has been traditionally considered “women’s work” out of the accounting for the cost of managing a family, a community, a country. However, by the 1990s, enlightened economists were starting to take issue with the way the GDP was calculated.103 In many countries efforts were put in place to include the work of unpaid workers. Except, of course, in the United States.
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To this day, we do not include the unpaid labor of caregivers in our economic policies, and the consequences can be financially devastating for women. Those who provide unpaid caregiving earn no Social Security credits for raising children. Ann Crittenden, in her brilliant book, The Price of Motherhood: Why the Most Important Job in the World Is Still the Least Valued, details how economists have systematically denied the value of caregiving in their calculations. She quotes economist Nancy Folbre, who focuses on non-labor market activity, and who said, “Economists have been profoundly uncomfortable even resistant to the notion that time devoted to children is economically important.”104
Here’s the rub: As our country has moved away from manufacturing toward a more service-based economy, the need for well-educated, highly skilled workers has become paramount. Based on our government’s economic policies, those who provide the caregiving do something of little or no value. But, wait, aren’t those children who are being cared for the very people we hope will one day become well-educated, highly skilled workers our economy needs? Seems like that caregiving should be considered one of the most valuable jobs of all.
As Ann Crittenden observes, “If our national prosperity reflects the productivity of our human capital, then the people who provide primary care to children are the single most important source of our most valuable economic assets.”105
Given this truth, it’s shocking we don’t provide paid parental leave, paid sick leave, or national child care. Makes you wonder about our future as a great country if we refuse to invest in those who protect our most important asset, the next generation.
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