I saw this fascinating information presented fabulously when Veronica Vergoth sent it out to the SI-all email list. It’s really cool! It’s a data tool that presents some of the results of the 2008 American Time Use Survey. You can see breakdowns on a ton of different demographics, like men/women (alas, no info on transfolks…), white/black/hispanic (no one else is real…), employed/unemployed/”not in labor force”, and a few other key aspects.
I imagine that they made the interactive graphic have only 3 options for most demographic characteristics to make it more manageable to present, so I’m not too irritated that, once again, a major mainstream data source doesn’t reflect me or a lot of other people I know at all.
The information that is there is just fantastically informative!
Then I read the accompanying article, which focused on the employed/unemployed differences:
“Without a paying job, these Americans have picked up other forms of labor: vacuuming the house, sending out rÃ©sumÃ©s, taking classes and caring for family. “
all was well until I came across the closing quote:
“If all we were doing is substituting production at home for production in the marketplace,” said Daniel S. Hamermesh, an economics professor at the University of Texas at Austin, “then maybe unemployment wouldn’t be so bad.”
Read it twice.
My first reaction: ass-hat! Making money is not what defines “productive” (read: necessary, valuable) work, in my worldview anyway. Furthermore, work in the internal/domestic sphere is historically “women’s work”, and in spite of changing attitudes, it is still a social and cultural expectation that women are primarily responsible for it, so when it’s excluded from being considered “productive”, we have clear sexism interfering (and in a post-colonial world, there’s of course also the race+class element: who does what work in whose home?) and overemphasizing the contribution of external/public sphere work in the economy.
There is such a thing as a non-monetary economy, and we have many of them, whether you believe it or not! And I’m not chasing after a chicken-egg question: plain and simple, if you don’t have your needs met in the domestic sphere, you can’t function adequately in the public sphere (e.g., if you don’t have food, it’s pretty damn hard to work all day at BankCorp, Inc. trying to bring home bacon, i.e., the ‘masculine’ side of the gendered division of labor in our neoliberal world contributes only material support to the home).
My second reaction: okay, maybe they cut off what he was saying. The reporter probably talked to Dr. Hamermesh for 20 minutes and then had to choose one key quote to meet the 500 word limit and was writing on deadline, and then the article got edited.
Third: I wonder exactly what Dr. Hamermesh means by “so bad”. I think it sucks when people don’t enough money to feed, shelter, clothe, educate, and spend time with themselves and their families adequately. Since money is a means to all of these things under American capitalism, well, then certainly higher unemployment means more people aren’t going to be able to do all that stuff as easily, and some not at all. But the way “we” Americans live, the going rate to live like that is wildly expensive. The cost of time, money, energy, and (other) resources is exorbitant for food, housing, clothing, education, and enrichment. Exorbitant!
But I have a suspicion that this is not what Dr. Hamermesh means when he says “so bad”. I can’t say for sure (his CV highlights many publications related to labor, but I don’t know what his angle is).
The way I see it, displacing work from the external spheres to the internal ones can’t be so bad. That’s where all the nurturing and cultivating work gets done! I would love to see a follow-up study of the same respondents measuring quality of life, and controlling for emotional, psychological, and physical/material stress related to unemployment and loss of income.