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An Economy for the Whole Family

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As long as we’ve had capitalism, we’ve had financial crises. Today, mainstream economists acknowledge that the next crisis will be resolved not by monetary policy but through serious spending by the government. To ensure that the spending is committed to wealth redistribution and helps the left build new constituencies, progressives should consider a feminist analysis: namely, compensating the reproductive labor that remains largely invisible and woefully underappreciated in this country.

This labor includes all the work that holds families and communities together, from child-rearing and elder care to community politics. Theorist Nancy Fraser describes it as the “social glue” that allows for social cooperation; without it, there would be “no economy, no polity, no culture,” she writes. But over the last few decades, the people who do this work—mostly women—have absorbed shock after capitalist shock. Care that used to be social and supported by state investment has been thrown back on individuals and the family as a private concern.

Consider that federal public investment today stands at its lowest level since 1947. Advocates for social services have been losing ground for decades. A comprehensive child care bill with bipartisan congressional support was killed back in 1971, after a young Pat Buchanan persuaded Richard Nixon that a veto could be used to rally cultural conservatives. Ronald Reagan fought to reduce spending on social services so successfully that “in real terms,” according to John Miller in Dollars & Sense, programs for low-income Americans “suffered a withering 54 percent cut in federal spending from 1981 to 1988,” including things like housing subsidies and employment services. Reagan justified these reductions as an answer to the crisis of stagflation.

The 1990s saw continued cuts under Bill Clinton, who declared the “end of welfare as we know it” and required that most women seeking benefits work. (The work of raising children didn’t count.) His brand of austerity was meant to court so-called moderates who cared about the federal deficit. Today, as a result, everything from welfare to health care to child care has languished. What the state no longer provides, individuals and families must—and those providers tend to be women.

At the same time, real wages have fallen since the 1970s, burdening workers even more. The family wage is no longer even an aspirational norm; these days, everybody has to work, and too many struggle to get by without even a living wage. Fraser and others have called the resulting crush a “crisis of care,” in which the very fabric of society is shredded and women are tasked with just barely holding it together under enormous pressure—including the demands of work. An unexpected event like an illness or unplanned pregnancy can become catastrophic, and all of life is permeated with the need to compete and make no mistakes, lest one fall into poverty and debt. Everything that business doesn’t want to pay for through higher taxes, better wages, or employee benefits has been foisted onto families, which, in turn, must keep their members healthy enough to work.

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Thanks !

Thanks for sharing this, you are awesome !