Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Should GNP Results Include Impact of Housework?

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Should GNP Results Include Impact of Housework?

Article excerpt

By Maria Odum N.Y. Times News Service WASHINGTON _ Homemakers often feel their work is taken for granted, and advocates in the women's movement argue that the statistical invisibility of what used to be called women's work has policy implications that undermine a wide range of family issues.

And so, there is an international movement to add housework to the gross national product as a way of elevating the work's status and, by extension, that of women.

The idea unsettles some economists and legislators, who say there is no sensible way to attach a price tag to unremunerated work, and that doing so would compromise the integrity of economic statistics by freighting them with political assumptions.

But proponents of the idea envision it as the magic wand that will force women's issues to the forefront of the American agenda.

"If you raise the status of women," said Rep. Barbara-Rose Collins, D-Mich., "then there wouldn't be such a debate on subjects like the Family Leave Bill, which passed in Congress but the president vetoed. We would be more conscious of the family unit."

Carol A.M. Clark, an economist at Guilford College in Greensboro, N.C., agrees. "If we had been counting women's unwaged work 30 years ago when women began entering the work force," she said, "policy-makers would have foreseen and prevented the current child-care and elder-care crises."

Opponents say the idea would only amount to empty symbolism and would create a convenient excuse for the tax collector to reach deeper into the family pocket.

"Once you establish it as a `normal' part of income, then the government can start to tax it," said Robert Rector, a policy analyst for family issues at the Heritage Foundation, "and I really think that's the bottom line here."

Furthermore, economists cannot easily grapple with the question of how to determine the value of particular jobs. The average cook, for example, earns $12,480 annually, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, but what is the economic value of the homemaker who can prepare a coulibiac de saumon _ or the one who can't even boil eggs?

"There are questions of quality," said Larry Moran, a research economist with the Bureau of Economic Analysis. "I don't know about your quality of housework, but the quality of my housework would be in trouble."

In October, Collins introduced a bill to an Education and Labor subcommittee that would require the Bureau of Labor Statistics to determine a dollar value for unpaid services like housework, caring for children or the elderly, agricultural work, volunteer work and work in a family business so that the amount could be added to the GNP, the standard measure of all the goods and services produced in a country.

Because the monetary value would apply to the work itself, the legislation would count the efforts of men as well as women if they share or perform household or volunteer work. …

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