This is a great article on that invisible piece of the economy, the work of caring for others.

Ruth Mantell of MarketWatch.com writes:

WASHINGTON (MarketWatch) — Workers who have lost their jobs and stay home to raise the kids have no value, according to government economists.

Our hulking gross domestic product excludes family caregivers across the nation. So are the leagues of recently unemployed workers who are now helping out at home worthless?

“They believe they are making a contribution, and in fact they are because that’s work that would have had to be done by somebody else,” Kim Gandy, a fellow at Harvard University’s Institute of Politics and past president of the National Organization for Women, told me last week. “Work is work, and it’s a contribution to the economy of the country. Homemaking and care giving of children and elders contributes dramatically to the nation.”

Although many economists recognize the importance of nonmarket household production, the value of the undeniably worthy work of family caregivers is excluded from GDP. Care giving of family members is excluded, in part, because the work tends to be self-contained and has “limited impact on the rest of the economy,” according to the Department of Commerce. There are also “practical considerations” about accurately measuring such productivity, according to the government.

This isn’t just an economic debate, though, as any stay-at-home parent can attest. But it’s precisely all the intangibles that make it such a sticky issue. It can be tough to estimate the value of looking after our loved ones given that such work is about more than compensation, said Claudia Goldin, an economics professor at Harvard University.

“Much of what we do with our children is not work — it’s love, education and the instilling of values. It is often not something you could ever farm out to anybody,” Goldin said.

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