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Randy Albelda

The macho stimulus plan

By Randy Albelda
November 28, 2008
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PRESIDENT-ELECT Barack Obama has convincingly argued for a stimulus package that creates jobs that produce things we desperately need and want. "We'll put people back to work rebuilding our crumbling roads and bridges, modernizing schools that are failing our children, and building wind farms and solar panels; fuel-efficient cars; and the alternative-energy technologies that can free us from our dependence on foreign oil and keep our economy competitive in the years ahead."

Yes, we need bridges, roads, and schools. And yes, we should invest in green jobs - stimulating the economy as well as building a strong basis for economic growth in the future. However, there is a crucial missing link in this package - both on the employment side and the investment side. That link is women. This might as well be called the macho stimulus package.

Jobs in construction and many of those that come with green investment often pay decent wages with benefits. But they are overwhelmingly held by men. Outside of trickle-around effects, this stimulus package will not create jobs for women in any close proportion to the numbers that will be unemployed. Almost one-quarter of families with children under the age of 18 are headed and supported by women as are the majority of single-adult households without children. This package will not put food on their plates.

Like the need to rebuild our physical infrastructure there is as big a need in developing and expanding our social infrastructure. Caring for children, the disabled, and elderly are best done when families are able to combine their own time with those of competent, trained, paid care workers. Yet their current costs make this almost prohibitive for many families. There is also a healthcare and education crisis looming. State and local funding for education and healthcare was an enormous burden before the economic downturn and has become an almost insurmountable one now.

Caring for those who cannot care for themselves, healthcare, and primary education are the very foundation of a civil society. Investing in these outcomes are as vital to our long-term economic health as airports, highways, wind turbines, and energy-retrofitted buildings. On the employment side, women are disproportionately employed in these sectors, so any stimulus package directed toward them would boost the employment prospects of women at all levels of the wage scale.

Finally, investments in direct care, education, and healthcare would also go a long way in alleviating poverty. Many low-income women are employed in these sectors. Federal money to these industries that also required a commitment to minimum employment standards would make more of these "good" jobs, lifting the bottom of the labor market.

Women have demonstrated repeatedly in polls and at the voting booth that investments in health, education, and the well-being of those who can't take care of themselves take high priority. As Abigail Adams requested of her husband in 1776: Remember the ladies. Obama would be wise to do the same and balance the package.

Randy Albelda is a professor of economics and senior fellow at the Center for Social Policy at University of Massachusetts-Boston.

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