What if "Women’s Work" was Centerpiece of the Stimulus Package?

Fri, March 27, 2009

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I know you might be wondering what glue I’ve been sniffing to wonder aloud about what our economic recovery could look like if “women’s work” was valued in the way men’s always has been. I don’t mean the stereotypical world of motherhood and careers limited to nursing and teaching. I mean the work of all women in the workforce, especially mothers.

The economic stimulus package that we’re all hoping will save our financial health is based on an outdated premise. This idea of focusing on “shovel ready” jobs and professions not particularly female friendly, like helping out the guys on Wall Street, may sound like a good quick fix, but I have to ask two questions – do we really need all the shovel ready stuff and who is the stimpak really going to benefit in the years to come?

Realistically and traditionally many of those jobs will go to male workers. I have to wonder, has that entered President Obama’s mind? When all the economic policy wonks were gathered to create this supposed miracle plan, was there any discussion about how to stimulate the economy by making sure that the equally important jobs traditionally held by women – ones that are increasingly being performed on flex schedules – see some of that stimulus? Where are the tax incentives and credits to keep women, who are disproportionately responsible for family and caregiving obligations, in their jobs?

As pointed out by Joan Williams, Director of the Center for WorkLife Law at UC Hastings, the ideas behind the money going to the stimpak are straight out of the 1950s. They are based on the premise that the ideal employee is one who is always unquestioningly available to his employer, not burdened by the need to be home to care and feed children.

If Barack Obama had really wanted to do something significant for those of us who put him in office, he would focus more on how to help women workers in the stimulus package. The Council on Women and Girls is a nice start, but we need more.

This IS the future. We don’t have the time to have a people sit around and ponder the intellectual. We need the practical. Now.

As Williams reminds us in her post at MomsRising, 46% of the American workforce is women and 81% of women have children by the time they are 44. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out if the economy is really going to be saved, the answer is not going to come from throwing money at construction projects, no matter how much our infrastructure needs them. It’s going to take more – we need a real commitment to finding ways to make things work for women in the workforce.

It’s just not happening at the moment. The Washington Post reported recently that women – read: mothers – who have been helping to support their families and keeping their families running because they had the opportunity to work either part-time or flex-time are the ones being laid off first because employers view them as extra costs. Employers are cutting “perks” like telecommuting because it’s perceived by those still stuck in the generation of June Cleaver that a real employee comes to an office and sits in that space for a certain period of time, being monitored for face time and not just productivity.

One small piece of good news is that the stimpak will help women in terms of how unemployment benefits are doled out, but that’s only temporary help. There is some help to provide additional funds to community health centers that provide services for women and children, as well as money for programs to prevent teacher layoffs, which would help women more than men. But what would a stimulus package look like if we invested in human infrastructure in the way we do with roads and bridges?

In reality, if more was invested in creating and supporting these programs, money would be saved and employees would be more productive – less time and money would be spent commuting and would provide more flexibility to juggle work and family obligations, keeping people employed and productive.

So how do we get President Obama to shift focus? I say it’s time to enlist Michelle Obama on this one! I know she’s busy with the mom-in-chief thing and getting the victory garden ready, but she said working families would be one of her projects and now is the time for her to weigh in. I know the GOP is getting itself all riled up because they fear Michelle becoming the next Hillary, but we need a voice in the White House and the administration who knows what it’s like to do the work/life balancing act.

I worry that even though this seems plain, that nothing will change from an institutional standpoint until those who are old enough to remember Wally and the Beaver (and those who are afraid of challenging them) are out.

Isn’t it long past due for our view of what jobs are worthy of national stimulus should change? My nine-year-old already equates work with getting in a car, going to the office and not getting home until dinner as the one that is deserving of her patience. If some more attention was paid to my work world –from the home computer, crafted carefully around a third-grader’s school and activity calendar so I can work and not have to pay a nanny – and it was considered by the stimpak gurus as worthy of investment, there could be some real economic stimulus on the horizon.

Cross-posted from BlogHer where PunditMom, aka Joanne Bamberger, is a Contributing Editor for News & Politics.

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2 Responses to “What if "Women’s Work" was Centerpiece of the Stimulus Package?”

  1. StephLove Says:

    Excellent points about the stimulus package.

    I was moved recently when my second-grader had to write a compare-and-contrast essay about two people he knew and he chose me and his other mom. In it he said she works in an office and I work at home. It was a small thing, but it made me feel validated. He’s not quite eight, but he gets it. Too bad more people don’t.

  2. Imee Says:

    For the record, I didn’t think you were crazy for thinking about what the ARRA would be like if it were more woman-oriented. ;) I do think you have a point though–I’m not one of those who extremely advocate girl power, but I do think that things would get a bit better if there were more focus to the women-related part of the economy.


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