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this is definitely the most interesting thing i've read so far in response to all the kerfuffle about the census. thanks for sharing this analysis.

A Corus radio station erroneously mentioned Harper killed the jail time threat for mandatory Census. I guess they like child poverty.
It would be nice if CPC would've mentioned what the data they get from a few questions they didn't like, is used for. Then suggest alternate questions (and what the info would be used for) and ask Canadians to voice their opinion (obviously not using Corus as info source).
I guess NEP made most Albertans permanently mildly evil? Can a Province be expelled?


Don't you think its more of a moral loss for women "home makers" who fill out the survey to not be recognized (please excuse the hyperbole that follows) as employed. It might be inefficient to have questions that are not usable on the survey, but so is being courteous if you are a doctor, or putting a dollar under your child's pillow when they lose a tooth, rather than just give it to them directly.

Sometimes its not all about what makes the most sense. If you're going to ask a mandatory survey don't you think you should take into account some things to make it less stressful, even if it isn't particularly useful?

Interesting. I'd comment but my wife told me to I have to mow the lawn and weed the garden. ;)


I agree that the dignity of survey respondents is important. I'm very glad, for example, that these days the Canadian census doesn't automatically designate the oldest man in the household to be 'the household head.' That's how it used to be, and it's still done some places.

I try (not always successfully) to avoid asking people questions like 'do you work' when I mean 'are you in paid employment.' Because being in paid employment is often less work than being an at-home parent!

But it is important to know whether or not people work for pay because being paid is important if you want to, say, pay rent.

And I really don't think that the hours of unpaid work question is the best way of getting at responsibilities for care. If you're a parent at home with two small children 24/7, how do you answer the question about the hours of unpaid work? What is 24*7 again? Or does it not count if one or both of you is asleep?

Nancy Folbre has done some really interesting work looking at the US censuses from back in the 1800s. In those days, women were classified as 'housewives: productive' and 'housewives: unproductive' - the latter, I guess, would be women who had servants who did the housework for them (unfortunately I don't have the reference, I remember hearing her talk about it).

Interesting. There's also been discussion on this at:

where I (as 'Yabut') also asked the critics to explain why the Census still needs to cover this, considering that two StatCan GSS surveys do, as well, but didn't get a full enough answer. The main critic appears to be Prof. Kathleen Lahey:



Kathleen Lahey has a longer analysis of these unpaid work census questions at http://blog.fedcan.ca/2010/08/05/engendering-changes-in-unpaid-work-in-canada/

Right; there she mostly complains she doesn't understand why the gov't made the decision. Is she really unaware of the fact that The National Statistics Council, "the senior, external advisory group appointed by the government of Canada to advise the Chief Statistician," specifically recommended dropping that particular q. just before the NHS was furtively put up on the StatCan site the night before the Industry Parliamentary Committee hearing?

As the last of their 4 rec's, they wrote,

"That the question series on household activities (question 33 in the 2006 long-form Census) be dropped as it was the question that occasioned the largest number of objections among the substantive questions and since it fails to meet any of the five tests outlined in point 1....

...1. That, as part of a formal consultation process beginning with the 2016 Census, Statistics Canada examine each Census question to ensure that it, at a minimum, meets one of the following tests for inclusion in the Census:
a. It is required by legislation or Cabinet direction,
b. It is needed for small-area data uses for which there is no alternative data source,
c. It is needed to create benchmarks for measuring difficult-to-reach groups and ensuring that subsequent surveys or data derived from administrative sources can be sampled or weighted to reflect accurately the overall population,
d. It is needed to assess progress on issues of national importance, for example the economic integration of new immigrants, or
e. It is to be used as a basis for post-censal survey sampling of relatively small or dispersed groups, for example, urban Aboriginals or people with health conditions that limit their activity."

(their statements & member list can be downloaded from http://www2.macleans.ca/2010/07/26/seeking-solutions/ and were also summarized in all the Global/Canwest/Postmedia outlets that day, e.g. www.montrealgazette.com/news/canada/StatisCan+Compromise+census+battle/3323368/story.html

Now although Ms. Lahey has responded that the other StatCan surveys don't provide small area data, she still hasn't demonstrated why that is needed by Canada's statistical system. (But perhaps she is still unaware of this Council's statements on this.)

Thanks not as Appalled and Insert, those are interesting readings.

What's interesting is what's missing from them.

For example, where's the reference to anything other than a bare-bones Stats Can summary report using the data? I've still not found any studies.

And the post that Insert references again raises the whole issue of including unpaid work in GDP, without taking a really critical look at how this data could be used for aims that I am sure Professor Lahey would not support.

It's often struck me as odd that critical theorists, who generally are among the first to realize that knowledge is power, that information can be used to control people, don't talk more about the issues I've raised in this post.

My first sentence above is a malicious attack but rest is true: our MSM radio won't take time to use the terms: "long-form", "short-form", or explain the long-form was mandatory and is now voluntary, and that the short-form is still mandatory (our Main Stream blogosphere does take this unpaid time). Prefer crime distraction from real story of tar sands unleashing future Revelations.

I think the answer to unpaid work is whether it boosts your earnings potential. For own children, it entitles you to child-tax benefits, not close to minimum wage but still isn't unpaid. For free babysitting other's children, if you don't get paid and don't receive a favour in return, unpaid. H.Clinton ran on a platform of tax benefits for caring for elderley relatives, so wouldn't be unpaid there if she won, I dunno if we have those here. Maybe sub-min wage is a good third designation?
I once studied 2 months out few years necessary to apply for synchrotron time in Saskatoon. That is given by government grant so I'd call it paid (pro-rated 1/10 of grant x odds of getting it). Whereas I also studied some materials science which I'd never be allowed to use Canadian government facilities without degrees. Unpaid.

A question for WCI: Is this econo blogging paid or unpaid? If you use it in your curriculum (and is time-effective use of course-building time) or if it is recognized to attract students, paid.

Neocons ignore unpaid uses of time. See, the goal is quality-of-living whether or not $ achieves it (first $10000/yr PPP or so very important says research). Neocon policies make it harder to get to $10000/yr, and overshoot; diminishing returns on making trillionaires. Neocons make getting that 1st $10000 so hard; they make it pleasurable to deprive this for others. They have legal whores and make chemical surrogates illegal even if not a criminal under the influence. Henry the VIII is GOP/CPC.

That's the easy part. Cats are harder. Ignoring selection biases, do cats earn their keep providing companionship to elderly? Are they a local maxima preventing better human and future cyber interaction? Employed widow cat owners make cats worth more. But if cats permit 200 yr longevity with the annual costs of existing end year of life....
Our environmental policy is being drafted by cats in Cabinet. The CIA used a $7M one as a spy before a car. Egyptians built the Sphinx. Now temples in Fort McMurray, Calgary and Houston; geology majors across the world stolen from renewable energy. How hard was it to slow one arms race in a stable climate? Cat whisperers in Caucus unleashing 100 pandora's boxes in unstable climate buying untargeted stealths instead of non-proliferation or responsible government think-tanks and infrastructure. What is the value of these breeders? Transfinite math needed for their hell on Earth? We know cats stopped Black Death once and now they prey to market forces and cats, instead of what to know and what not to know, and only then the fangs of stealthy cats.

I brushed my teeth this morning. You know how much a dentist would charge me for that? And I just drove eight hours to get to my vacation spot. That would cost hundreds if a taxi did it for me.

Taking care of children? Almost valueless compared to what I'm going to do for myself today. Even hiring someone to write this comment would cost me more than a day of babysitting.

Phil, a boring technical response and a more philosophical response.

Technical response:

To avoid the kind of problem that you mention in the post, economists often measure the value of unpaid work using an opportunity cost approach. What would you have been doing if you hadn't brushed your teeth this morning? What would it have been worth to you? Two minutes of your time at your marginal wage rate is a small fraction of the amount a dentist charges for looking at your teeth for two minutes. Or economists use a generalist, rather than a specialist salary - if you were in a nursing home, it wouldn't be a dentist who would brush your teeth, but rather you'd get them done in two minutes by someone paid $15 per hour.

The problem with the opportunity cost approach, though, is that if a lawyer with a charge out rate of $500/hour spends an hour doing dishes, those are $500 clean dishes. And since men's wages are on average higher than women's, men's unpaid work is worth more.

Also things that no one else could do for you, e.g. sleep or go on vacation, aren't generally considered to be unpaid work. Though that's a hard line to draw, because of kids/caring work.

More philosphical response:

Your comment actually reveals an important point: the things that give our life meaning, and make us healthy and happy, are often things that are not measured in GDP. Large increases in average per capita GDP are accompanied by small or no increases in average per capita happiness.

But is the solution to try to evaluate unpaid work and get a better measure of GDP? Or is it to study what actually makes people happy?

There is so much about work itself that is unpaid. Let's say I'm a lawyer (a female lawyer) clocking billable minutes. The work I do that's not billable is still work. Unpaid caregiver work is in the same continuum. Recognition of it has to happen on many fronts. Obviously census questions are are simply one way of keeping the attention focused. We are all productive but the division of money is very, very unfair. Jobs that pay over 100K are really the problem. Until we have a base livable income for every person we simply cannot afford to pay salaries over 100K and grow our GDP. Productivity is about a maintaining a workforce that is getting things done both at home and on the job. It's about fair distribution of the resources to keep people happy. Canadians are not happy with their jobs and much of this has to do with the burdens of home. So clearly we have to value caregiving properly, pay fair salaries so both the workers doing it and workers hiring it are succeeding, and stop the greed of these people in our society who make more than 100K and think their entitled to it while the rest of us suffer. Can I request a blog post detailing the negative effects on GDP of high salaries? Is it here already? Thanks!

Bev Smith took the time to respond to me about this post, I'm adding these comments to the dialogue with her permission:

As a person mentioned in the paper and in the same sentence as Carol Lees, I am honored for sure. It is wonderful Dr. Woolley has heard of my work and I am impressed that she also has spelled my name rights. So few do.

I wanted to address however her thesis about the census raising some of her concerns and commenting if I may.

1. The census is not a serious analysis of unpaid work

I would say it is serious, not a joke, but that it is not complete. I agree that it asks only some questions and that many others could be asked. I have long been a supporter of having such questions but a critic of the way these paltry few were asked.

We need to know not just how many hours were spent on the unpaid labor but what kind of hours they were. Saving a toddler from electrocuting himself is much more stressful than singing to a baby. Feeding a dying aunt and comforting her troubled mind is not the same level of stress as preparing a casserole for five. Here are some expansions I would have wanted; a distinction made between housework and caregiving. hey may overlap but they are not the same. Housework for yourself alone is part of the price one plays for being alive. We clean up after ourselves, make our own beds, do our own laundry, take out our own garbage and this is genuine effort but not work that benefits others.

Housework done for others however is different. When you cook a meal for the family, make the beds of other people, take others to the doctor that is of nearly no benefit to yourself but a vital service to them. The aspect of ‘work’ benefiting others is more logical at that point.

Caregiving is another dimension still. When you forego income to tend someone who is very ill, because someone has to do this and the person cannot take care of themselves, this is effort that has no receipt to it, but income sacrifice. Traditional economics does not keep a running tally of money not spent, only of money spent. But in any given household a foregone income is a huge blow to the budget. Even taking a few days off paid work is two days without pay and this can really dent plans in low income homes.

So first of all, the census should ask several more questions about unpaid work to get a fuller picture of what is involved. It is logical to ask the age of the person being cared for, maybe the gender, whether the care involves medical treatment for an ongoing ailment, whether it involves special diet, whether it involves treatment for an incurable illness. It is possible and logical to ask if the condition of the person cared for improved or got worse or stayed the same over the course of the year because this taps into the ‘need’ of care and the stress level involved.

It is possible to ask if the hours spent involved cooking and if so how many generally ate the meal that was being prepared because this shows some aspects of need, pressure and number of people benefiting from the service. It is possible and logical to ask if the person saying they did unpaid labor created the meals sometimes, most of the time or never, from scratch, if they used home gardening produce and fruit or if they purchased ingredients rarely, sometimes or often at a store. It is possible and logical to ask how much time was taken up in meal and snack preparation and to ask how much time was spent in clean up after the meal.

Those questions help get a picture of what is involved in the care role, since making baby food for one infant is not the same as cooking three big meals a day for parents and four teenagers. In other words, just like we don’t equate all paid jobs only based on hours, we should in the census be asking for better descriptions of the effort involved.

When questions of care of children come up it is useful and logical to ask if the parent is breastfeeding or using bottles, how many times a day the baby is feeding, and if the parent uses cloth or disposable diapers. These numbers are useful for study of water use, environmental issues, and also to give a picture of the intensity of the demands of care of that child.

When we realize that historically women have spent day after day running the household, and men have historically hunted, gathered and earned, to ask 50 questions about men’s efforts and only two about women’s is really not going to fully capture women’s. To be fair, the census question that probed into what happens in a home, should ask more. This year did the person do gardening, roof repair, construction of a garage, shed or other household property? Did the person shovel their walks mow their lawn, cut their hedges or did they hire this done?

Did the person take a family member or friend to school, college, gyms, sports events or team practices on a regular basis, to medical and dental appointments, to friends’ house? We need to round out the picture of all the ways caregivers help others.

We could ask if any of the family members needed special time to deal with emotional issues that year and how much time that took. This tally may be quite revealing about the stress and need of caregiving.

It would be possible to ask about the reason a person was a caregiver, if this was something they had always wanted to do or if this was something that landed on them by situation – eg car accident of spouse. It would be logical to ask if the caregiver had to take time from paid work to this care role and if there were financial penalties for this. It would be logical to ask if the person was also trying to earn money from home and if so, how much time they were able to devote to that pursuit. This would help government look more realistically at the reasonable expectation that someone taking care of young children or very handicapped or ill family members can also be earning.

We could ask if the parent was teaching the child particular skills and give some examples to tick off, music, dance, sports, cooking, etc. We could ask if at any point in the year the caregiver attended school interviews, concerts, demonstrations to be supportive of the child and if so, about how many times per year .

A fourth category in the unpaid labor section but also blended in unfairly, is volunteer work. This is a huge but very separate way that unpaid citizens contribute. Again, this question could be asked in way more detail. Did you cook a meal for a neighbor or family member and deliver it to them? Did you drive someone outside the family to a medical or dental or other appointment, to church or a social event?

Did you visit someone elderly in their own home, in a nursing home, and if so how many times per year? What distance did you have to travel to do such visits? These questions help show the ‘cost’ of care’giving’ that in fact turns out to be not just time but also gas, car upkeep, even food.

It would be possible to ask if a person coached a team, taught a club, mentored others, tutored for free? |It would be possible to ask if the person did research for a charity, volunteered hours at a food bank, did free accounting or baking or hostessing for a church or social group, whether they filled envelopes or helped canvas for charity fundraisers, whether they took part in marathons or golf tournaments whose chief purpose was charitable.

In other words, my first objection to the census question about unpaid work was that it was only one or two questions. We need more.

2. The census question is not well analyzed.

I feel that given the very general aspect of the few questions included, not much analysis is possible. Stats Canada generally did only gender and hours of effort analysis, sometimes correlating these with other data on the form to see if parents at home did more or less unpaid hours than parents outside the home.

Were the questions more detailed, better analysis and more useful would have been possible . With the questions above as I have suggested it would be possible to do much more thorough analysis that would touch on environmental impact of various styles of care, age of children getting various types of care, need of emotional support for various ages of children, percent of handicapped family members getting care at home,etc.

To date the census question has been mostly analyzed for gender and to make some point many women feel deeply matters about if it is men or women who do more work in the home. The statistic resulting has often then been used to pressure men to cook more meals, change more diapers or do more cleaning.

This ‘use’ of the statistics smacks nearly of a political agenda however since it creates only a pressure to get men to change behavior. The census did not actually value unpaid work but seemed to look at it as onerous and wanted simply to pressure men to share the burden of it. I know Stats Canada did not have any particular agenda with the question but the use of the answer certainly has become one-sided.

I agree with Dr. Woolley that in fact unpaid labor has many features and that men also do some of it, repairing the car, fixing the plumbing, mowing the lawn. Men’s role may even have been undercounted if the assumption was made by a person filling out the census that the questions were only about kitchen roles. It seems to me that we are in agreement that the questions lacked breadth to tap into the facts. I feel they were not easy for the person filling them out to understand and huge inaccuracies may have resulted just from trying to guess what the questions actually were about.

But incomplete use of the information does not therefore justify scrapping the whole idea of the questions. That is an extreme reaction something like making your first painting as a child, finding it imperfect and vowing to never paint again.

The census long form questions on unpaid labor were a good start. They need to be expanded.

3. Dr. Woolley says that if we do count unpaid labor as worthwhile, then it is like income in kind. She makes the traditional economics argument that the government has a right to tax any production at all that generates income, and second, that if you produce the item or service yourself for your own use, then it also has the right to a piece of this benefit.

That logic however falls down when it comes to the personal. If I make myself a sandwich and eat it, the state is saying by that argument that I should save part of it for the tax department. Well it could have the cucumber I guess since I never liked them. But all kidding aside, the state does not benefit from the sandwich. She is making the case that I owe the state money for not buying the sandwich at the corner store, enabling that store operator to make a living and pay tax. Her argument is that I should pay a penalty in essence for making my own sandwich, since I am robbing someone from their job.

That is a logical argument by traditional economics standards that is blind to work that does not generate money that can be taxed. My thesis however is that traditional economics itself is flawed in this regard.

John Maynard Keynes ignored all unpaid labor as useless because it was not creating money but many feminist economists are now pointing out that there was a whole value to what makes an economy tick that he was ignoring.

When I make the sandwich for myself, I keep myself alive but really the state does not need me and I am only in self-maintenance mode. If however

I make sandwiches for my family to eat, this may be more useful to examine. Then from what I understand of Dr. Woolley’s argument, I am keeping a café owner from selling me sandwiches and earning money and paying tax and I should be penalized for this. She is claiming that I am reaping a benefit of having sandwiches to eat without having had to go buy them and that by making them myself I am richer for not having had to go down to the café and lay out cash for them.

I am therefore deemed to be ‘richer’ than the person who bought the sandwich because I got mine somehow at lower cost. They had a bill to pay and I did not. Again this is traditional economics talking, the kind that only looks at receipts and flow of money. The assumption I paid nothing for the sandwiches I made is crucial to her argument but actually I paid a lot for those sandwiches. I may have put in hours baking the bread, time picking the parsley out of the garden, and maybe I collected eggs from the henhouse for the eggs. The labor I put into the production of the sandwich and collection of is ingredients is not all receipted but it is actually part of what the cost of these sandwiches is to me.

If we count labor as a cost, this is no cheap sandwich. If we could the money I could have been earning selling widgets and did not earn, my opportunity cost so I am home to make this sandwich, there is also a cost there.

So the end result is that I have the benefit of the sandwichs for my family the same as if I had bought them at the café, but this benefit is richly offset by the cost I put in. It is as offset by it as the cost of handing over money to the café owner, if I put a value on my time too and part of my case is that we should.

There is a second factor that is worth looking at also. Who benefits from the sandwiches I make for my family? It is not just me. In earlier times the child was deemed a possession of the parent, even to be killed or sacrificed at parental discretion but we now realize children are their own beings, and have human rights from the start. Some even claim they have these rights in utero but nobody disagrees that they have rights once born.

Given then that feeding the family is not my hobby but in fact my obligation, that they need to eat, have a right to eat and that under the law if I deprive them of food I can be charged with neglect, my feeding these children is a service I provide.

It is a service to these children but they are not my property. They are already part of society itself. They benefit and I don’t. So if we are to tax the person who benefits from the making of this sandwich, it would surely not be me. It may be the children and they of course can’t pay tax. They also are not deriving such huge financial benefit from this sandwich that there is a percent left over to tax.

So we could look at the nature of children and government and who benefits when someone does something for children. I would make the case that it is the society itself that benefits when I feed my children the sandwiches because every society needs children to carry on.

The children are not my personal hobby like a boat or a living pet like a horse that the state will not derive any benefit from. They are the future citizens, the taxpayers of the next generation and government not only has some interest in helping the turn out well but will not survive unless someone has children.

When governments lately help fund care of children by 3^rd parties they often do so with the rationale that children are our future, that the money is an investment and such rhetoric. The point is though, they are right. Money spent on children is always an investment in their turning out healthy, well balanced emotionally, educated, able to function and be contributors to society as adults.

If government is already admitting that it is investing in children and that these are ‘our’ children in a community based recognition, then it seems that if we are to tax who benefits from eating my sandwiches the main beneficiary actually is the community itself, society, the nation and what this does mean is government.

If we argue that the one who gets the benefit should pay tax on it, this does mean that government should tax itself for the sandwiches I made.

Now admittedly this sounds odd but it is actually logical. I give my selfless service to others, giving up income, sweating away with other-centerd labor that is costing me and not benefiting me. Why do I do it? I do it to serve these children, and my society and build a better country. I am working with a vision of the future not unlike that of any firefighter, police officer, soldier.

The argument about unpaid labor then becomes not that it is selfish or lazy, but that it is genuine work society has not paid and should have.

It is asking government to remove the blinders, to admit its indebtedness it has always had to caregivers, to admit that it has taken for granted for years that someone would have babies and tend the young, sick, handicapped, elderly and dying.

So I would agree that there is imputed income when I make my sandwiches for the family But the income is not to me. It is government’s.

4. Dr. Wooolley says that people with greater income should pay more tax

She is saying that the one income family with a parent at home is somehow as rich as or richer than the two income family given the same total income, because the one got some of its work done ‘free ‘ at home. This argument would have us believe that the couple that has to eat out and has to get someone to clean for them and has to hire a nanny is to be pitied while the one that never gets to eat out, has to do all its own cleaning, and tending of the children without help is wealthier.

It is again a traditional economics argument that counts only work that is receipted.

The whole point of the unpaid labor movement is to examine the bias of the earlier way of counting what work is. If we value all roles citizens have that benefit others, whether or not money went to them does not change the fact that taking care of others is work, and ‘deserves’ money and recognition and they ‘earned’ it even if they did not get it, just like you can deserve and earn a prize even if you don’t get one.

So I would make the case that the equally earning households where one pays for a bunch of services while the other has to do them all itself, are actually equally well off. They both have to pay for the services and one household pays with cash but the other pays with sweat labor and with opportunity cost. They are equals.

The traditional tax system that Woolley espouses does claim that the wealthy one is the one with only one income. But such a claim ignores the fact both have to pay someone to cook and clean and tend the children, even though only one is paid in cash.

The reality is however not usually that the two households are equally earning. Most single income households earn much less than dual earning households and this is evident because two is bigger than one and because most people who have two incomes not one do it to add to their income.

So what we really have is a smaller earning household, usually on only one income or maybe one and a part-time income, being compared to two full time incomes. The wealthier household in terms of cash brought home is the dual earner household. Now when we look at the cost of cooking, cleaning and tending children, both as I have mentionned need these tasks done and incur a cost for them.

The dual earner household can actually better afford the hiring of 3^rd parties because it has more income. It is wealthier to start with.

But traditional economics does not look at it that way. Traditional economics says that we must sympathize with the couple that has to eat out and hire a nanny and a maid, and we should give them some tax breaks because of this extra cost they have that the others don’t. So our tax system has put in a lot of helps to them, business related deductions if the nanny enabled them to earn, childcare deductions for hiring out, even in the caregiver allowance, deductions for maid service.

The tax department in other words has been very aware of the receipted costs of the wealthier family, the one with dual incomes and has tried to help by subsidizing some of thoee costs. Why? It says it has done this to enable them to ‘work’ This is traditional economics talking again, saying that all those other roles are not work but it is that point that I would disagree with.

The single earner and therefore usually lower income household is given no help with its daunting costs of feeding, clothing, nurturing the children however. These costs of physical labor and of opportunity cost are ignored, even though the end product, well raised kids, well fed, well nurtured and in a clean home are the same at both homes.

The state gets equal ‘benefit’ from both homes but only had to pay one of them. It got the other services free. The case could be made then that the state to provide equality under the law, should not be playing favorites. If it pays for child A but not child B, for clean house A but not clean house B, for caregiver A but not caregiver B, something is wrong

And many parents have made that case. When a single income family uses a daycamp, school lunch program or other 3^rd party caregiver, then the receipted costs for once are both visible in each family. But even then the state will not fund the bills for the single income family. Even with proof of the cost the traditional economics paradigm also will not let the deduction be made from the one income household. It has to be from a dual income household, again because of the strongly held traditional belief that the deduction is only to help women ‘work’ and women don’t’ work’ at home.

But it gets even worse. The single income family pays a higher tax than the dual income family because no income splitting can be declared. Accountants Kurl Oleschagel and Heather Gore Hickman have independently calculated the penalty on style of income earning at any given income level can be as high as 46%.

The less wealthy couple therefore is the single earner one not just in absolute income tally but also after tax.

But it gets worse. The current tax system also says that the tax for all citizens will be used to provide the subsidies for the childcare, nannies and maids of the dual income family. This means that the single income family, poorer by income, doubly poorer because of heavier tax, is also obliged to fund the care of children in the wealthier family while none of that tax is used to equally benefit its own.

I therefore disagree with Dr. Woolley’s observation about who is rich here and about who is paying fair tax.

5. Dr Wooolley makes the facetious apparently statement that if she makes her own jam household production would go up and since she would not need any job training or support for the job hunt’ unemployed women are a social benefit”

This sarcasm borders on cruelty though and this is where traditional economics can be cruel. Not only is the work of the caregiver at home unpaid and overtaxed, but it is in traditional economics ignored or mocked.

To call a woman tending a group of young children ‘unemployed’ is pure Keynesian economics but it is vastly out of touch with the realties of life. Economist Marilyn Waring in New Zealand says by contrast “When I see a mother holding her child I know I am watching a woman at work”.

We return therefore to the problem of terms, of work, and labor force and employment and productivity, all of which terms are restricted in Dr. Woolley’s paradigm it seems to the flow of money. Unpaid work is work and we know this because it is unpaid and we can’t pay it because it is unpaid.

The challenge for governments and economists of the 21^st century is to dare to open that box and think differently. Women at home are not ‘unemployed’. They never have been. They are busily employed anchoring the economy by nurturing its helpless members.

The way governments treat at-home caregivers though bears comment for its huge and destructive repercussions. Not only is the effort ignored and not only is there no salary and not only are there nearly no deductions but the tax level is higher as if this arrangement is one of indulgence and sloth.

Women have for a long time had to deal with the stigma of being home as if this was a betrayal of feminism. But to argue that is to actually be counter recognition of women’s full rights because to say women must get out of the home assumes as men always did and economists historically did, that the at home role was lesser.

The rights movement for equality dares to say that at home role is not inferior, is vial work, and that not only are women not a drain on society or just ‘staying home’ but society actually depends on them. The argument is made that for too long now governments have actually been taking women for granted as servants and nurturers of the sick and dying and has refused to fund this work but still expects someone to do it, and free.

Now that tax plans have been adjusted to pressure women out of the home we see a dilemma for government because it will no longer have that huge labor force of unpaid servants around. What to do? It has created a system of encouraging women to earn as if that is the only way they can contribute to the economy and it has then pitched in with funding for the care role it now admits they have left behind.

But it is going bankrupt nearly, realizing to its horror that this really was work, that to pay people to do it costs a huge amount of money. Sweden set up universal daycare to pressure all mothers out of the home and it quickly had huge national financial problems. The bill for daycare was enormous, not even counting the stress and anxiety of children and mothers forced apart. Sweden tried to keep that bill down by making larger and larger adult-child ratios in the daycares and when that was not enough it also raised taxes and when the public got fed up with their astronomical tax rate, the public voted out the government in fall 2009. The national daycare system is proving equally shockingly expensive for the province of Quebec and the province of BC and the only way governments can still stay afloat while claiming to endorse ‘universal childare’ is if not many people take them up on the offer. By limiting the number of low cost ‘spaces’ it funds, governments can claim to value women’s work without actually fully funding the work outside the home and free daycare, or the work in the home. It is playing citizens, trying to give the illusion it values women and work women do without actually living up to it.

The result is pretty well sadness in all quarters. Women who earn full time are pleased they are the favored few with all the tax breaks but they also feel torn when the child is sick, when there is a weekend conference to attend or when the teen needs much of their time and counseling. They feel frazzled, guilty and stressed. Women at home part-time or full-time are poorer off financially and scorned by tax policy for their lifestyle too so they are not happy.

The traditional economics paradigm that looks at full employment as a solution to all woes, ignores the care role at home entirely. Most women who earn full time have expressed in polls that they want more time with family, more flexibility for part-time paid work, for job sharing, telecommuting, flex hours. Most women at home have expressed passionate commitment to their family but also the frustration at the stigma and poverty they must endure. Traditional economics says only to get all these women out of the home more and gives them free daycare. It is not a solution that will actually please either.

If women’s liberation and feminism mean anything they have to look at what women want not just what they are forced into. If ‘choice ‘means anything a fair government should not just look with sympathy at those who ‘have to ‘ earn but at those who ‘have to ‘ be home with the family member. The ‘have to’ senses of practicality or obligation, medical or martial situation are realities but a really liberating movement dares to also ask the meta question back from the reality

Why do we assume single mothers ‘have to ‘ earn? Why did we make a tax system that forces them away from their children and gives their kids not option of parental presence?

Why do we assume that all women at home are stuck there and want to leave? Why do we assume that all women in the paid work world are happy there and don’t want to be home?

In fact women differ dramatically about what they want to do and what they are currently doing is not proof they are doing what they want.

The women’s movement will advance only if we step outside the old assumptions and by old I mean also those of the 1970s tat said no women wants to be home with the children. Traditional economics of the 1920s had her there and gave her a small spousal benefit. She was chained there as it were. But the feminism of the 1970s just chained her to the office desk instead. It continued to scorn the woman at home so this was really not liberation till all options were equally valued.

6. Men’s work and women’s work

Dr. Woolley is arguing from the old assumptions that men do car repairs and women make jam. Nowadays women also can do car repairs, men can make jam and the liberation has two fronts. One was for women who earn to be equal to men who earn. That is nearly accomplished if we look at university enrolment figures. But the second liberation is for women to be equal to women, for the at home role to be as respected as the earning outside the home role.

It is no longer a question of gender bias about men or women. It is a much more subtle bias, against roles only women used to have. Men are now experiencing this bias if they are male nurses, male daycare workers, male elementary school teachers, dads at home. They are often astounded at the second class, oh you don’t work much, status society puts on the role, because of its association with gender, even if they are not of that gender. That bias shows how deeply rooted discrimination can be.

But they are also aggressive in fighting for more rights for the role. It’s interesting how they are not wiling to take the put downs or to have neighbors just assume they are on call. Raised with a sense of self-worth, they help those women fighting for recognition of the role to have courage to ask for what all deserve.

The fact that traditional economics calls daycare ‘market produdction’ but care of a child at home only household production, lesser and of no value, is a problem that Dr Woolley has not fully addressed it seems

But it’s also a game. If you tell the woman at home she is not using her skills, she does not work, she is not ‘attached ‘ to the labor force and she is not productive that is insult enough. But traditional economics goes one more and tells her she is not even good at the thing she is doing. It tells her she is not actually offering care of a child, she is not a childcare provider, she is not teaching her children anything and she is not an ‘early childhood educator’ though a teenager with a piece of paper and no experience is deemend an ‘expert’ if she works at a daycare.

It is this level of word play that is astounding as women try to claw their way up to equality. The civil rights movement is familiar with the word games though where to be a person of color, or ‘black’ was scorned until the courage came to say “Black is beautiful’. The word games are part of the feminist struggle in Canada where it was assumed voter meant man and that ‘person ‘ meant man. Women have pushed to redefine some words to get full equality in many domains and the frontier not yet passed over is the redefinition of ‘ ‘work ‘itself. Of course mothers at home work, are productive and of course they are childcare providers, their homes are childcare centers and the mothers are early childhdood educators. We need to move past traditional economics to recognize this.

7. Dr. Woolley asks us to look at the standard of living. Japan expects people to care for their own elderly and news has just surfaced that lack of a nursing home provision has led to a lot of fraud as families did not actually admit an aging relative had died, so they could continue to collect the pension. Sweden by contrast has the state taking care of everybody outside the home but this costly system also has serious flaws being out of touch with what some people want.

Standard of living is a term traditional economists may think is jstu income per person and poverty rate. But when we factor in health and life expectancy we get another picture and if we dared to factor in the uncountables that some claim are what keep them alive, like feeling loved, living in a free country, having something meaningful to do and feeling needed – we’d get a third picture. There are, after all not just the two polar extremes of Japan or Sweden. They are not even opposites in some ways because both of them involve the state telling you how to live

What we might consider as option C is the state permitting you to live the way you choose, funding care itself,not caring about where it was provided or marital status or other income in the household. If we ignored gender of the caregiver or family relationship as a disqualifier and just valued care labor itself, that might work best of all. Then the state would not have a huge exorbitant bill for universal eldercare and childcare but we’d still have the option of 3^rd party care for those who want it. If funding flows to the person needing care, and we fund caregiving itself, those who are at home giving up income are not as poor and those who want to do paid work part-time or full-time in the home or away from it also now have money to pay for the care location and style they prefer by a 3^rd party.

Dr. Woolley may not have thought of option C but she may have.

I see in some of her comments some more conciliatory comments. She enjoyed her children but may not understand that it is OK to say you found joy in them and also insist that the role be valued by society. She may have had some leisure time to ‘philosophize’ but many harried mothers do not, and many of them are home.. All mothers have a 24 hours day and kids need care 24 of those hours. How mothers divide these hours up varies but all mothers are providing either paid care, or unpaid care for all of them.


We often hear the expression’ the reality is’ and then the argument to favor one group over another, usually paid workers over unpaid workers.

But there are many realities. The need for money is a reality. The need of a crying baby for cuddling is a reality.

I would like to see all labor for others be paid labor. Not richly paid maybe, but paid enough so that people could serve others and society the way they feel called to do so.

The expression ‘unpaid labor’ suggests it is a hobby or a gift. But it need not be unpaid to be a gift, to be done with love. We don’t resent the salary of a bridge builder, brain surgeon or bomb defuser. Pay is how our society recognizes work.

The care sector may not think of a tax break as pay and maybe it is crass to think of it as pay since you act out of love. But you also have to eat. We all do. Funding for what historically has been taken for granted is an idea vital to women’s equality.

[Edited to remove the forced line breaks. - SG]

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