dalessandro1_ARIEL TIMY TORRES/AFP via Getty Images_domestic work1 ARIEL TIMY TORRES/AFP via Getty Images

Post-Pandemic Recovery Must Include the Care Economy

Unpaid labor like childcare and eldercare is not represented in economic models, although it makes up an important part of the economy. The pandemic has exposed this shortcoming, and the task now for economists and policymakers is to devise ways to value this labor appropriately and support it adequately.

BUENOS AIRES/WASHINGTON, DC – The COVID-19 pandemic may have slowed the global economy in 2020, but the “care economy” was working harder than ever. For too long, economists and policymakers have ignored this segment. Economic models account for the goods and services sold in the market and the workers who produce them, earn income, and pay taxes. But the labor that enables those workers to be fed, cared for as children, and supported when sick is nearly invisible in official data.

The reason is simple: much of the work in the care economy is not financially compensated. Unpaid work is not included in the System of National Accounts or gross domestic product. The economists who crafted these metrics focused mainly on the value of market transactions. This perspective, which ignores unpaid contributions, has long been institutionalized in conventional economic analysis. The pandemic has made its shortcomings impossible to ignore any longer.

Efforts to remedy society’s undervaluation of care work have been underway since the 1990s. The collection of time-use data in over 90 countries around the world has helped us learn more about unpaid labor, which is primarily done by women. While this valuable information can be used to evaluate a wide range of fiscal, labor, and social policies, time-use data are underused in planning and analysis. The care sector for the most part remains unaccounted for in standard policy tools.

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