Getting small things done right: the economy is a women's issue

(Unsplash/Jimmy Bay)

Health care and tax cuts have put the economy in the news. I've been thinking bigger, about the economy and women.

The Greek root of "economy" means household management. And if you take a good look at household management, it include, first and foremost: child care. Whether we are talking about an infant or an out-of-sorts 13-year-old on the phone, this is women's work, unpaid labor.

Second, also unpaid work, is care of the sick and elderly. My grandmother lived with us when I was a child. She was my father's mother, but my mother provided the care. That's not so true today in the United States. But it is not uncommon, and in most of the world, it's how things are. Further, when a child is sick, who takes time off work? The mom. It's how things are.

Third is household cleaning, shopping, paying the bills — all unpaid and all usually the province of women. Yes, the times they are a'changing, but not so much.

Fourth is going out of the house to work, whether it be farming or hunting or banking or clerking at a cash register. For the first half of the 20th century, some married women living in cities in the United States did not go out to work. My mother, however, married and with seven children, was a secretary, and my father worked in radio advertising and management. Today it is very rare that a woman does not earn income outside the home, shoulder-to=shoulder with her spouse.

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Finally, in this catalog of household management, there's what economists call maintaining right relationships. This includes writing thank-you notes, hosting Thanksgiving dinner and baby showers, buying presents, answering and reciprocating invitations — all the tasks that make a society function. Again, they are unpaid.

The unpaid labor that is four-fifths of a woman's job description is a set of high-value tasks. Carol Channing has a song, "Nobody Likes Housework," on "Free to Be You and Me," but food left out on the counter may lead to botulism. Housework saves lives.

So what's my point? That women matter, not in some vague esoteric pronouncements, but as daily contributors to a functioning economy. We understand the choices in health care for well-baby visits. We understand the impact of co-pays on household bills. We understand the trade-off of tax cuts and school crossing guards.

Pundits who chatter about the economy don't generally look at the big picture. But once in a while, it's worth stepping back to look. And then we see that the big picture is about getting the small things done right.


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