Sep 11, 2014

    Paying women for housework is behind the curve

    AS I sit at my desk at home to write this brief column on the value of housework, I find myself staring at a very large pile of laundry.

    This year, Italy considered a proposal for the government, or the husband or partner in some instances, to pay wives for doing housework.

    Most families today in the United States do not have someone at home whose full-time job is to care for children and others, clean the house and take care of other domestic chores.

    Certainly, that is not the case at my house.

    Yet, these chores still need to be done. Clean clothes and dinner on the table at a reasonable hour are the kinds of things that make a house a home, at least, in our imaginations.

    Paying women wages for doing housework presumes that women are and should be the ones who do the housework, and that they do not already have a paying job.

    In most families in the US today, men and women are sharing housework (although she still does a lot more than he does, men are doing more each year) and most women work outside the home.

    So, a more practical solution to encourage greater household sanity is by addressing the long-term rise in family hours of work and the long-term stagnation of family wages.

    If all adults work outside the home, then someone will need to be paid to care for the children, the elderly and, yes, take care of the laundry.

    Yet, for most families, the cost of these important services is beyond their family budgets.

    For the bottom 80 per cent of all US families, incomes are the same today as they were over a decade ago, after factoring in inflation, which means affordable high-quality childcare and solutions for ailing elders (let alone being able to outsource some of the household chores) is, quite frankly, out of reach.

    Another solution would be to make it possible for more adults to work just a little bit less than full time.

    Surveys show that this is something people would like. If everybody were to put in 30 or 35 hours a week, then there would be enough time to not only do well at work, but also do some of those chores at home.

    Laundry, of course, takes a lot less time to do today than it did 50 years ago. But it still takes time.

    And, with two jobs and no one at home all day, that added burden after work is a real chore.

    Maybe I have read too many Harry Potter books, but I know that I wish that we had a magical chore-completing household elf.


    The writer is executive director and chief economist at the Washington Centre for Equitable Growth.