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Then, fearing inflationary pressures on the economy, Congress let the American Rescue Plan’s most powerful investments, the most substantial government support for social reproduction in a generation, end. But social reproduction — the caretaking of people, relationships and systems that make our society work — still had to be done. Reallocating your spending from child care to student loan payments, for example, might be feasible, but it is not particularly enjoyable. That assumes one can find accessible child care or an in-network doctor or apartment. When stimulus funding ended, a lot of services people rely on became harder to find and afford.

When people talk about the work that makes the economy possible, they often think first and most about child care. There is a good reason for that. Child care is necessary work. It is often unpaid work (when done by mothers) or underpaid work (when done by child care workers). The American Rescue Plan sent $39 billion to states, with the aim of stabilizing child care centers. After some of that funding expired in September, the problems typical of our country’s child care shortage re-emerged. Depending on where one lives, child care centers’ capacity may not have returned to prepandemic levels, producing a lot of anxiety and wait lists for families. As one of my colleagues recently put it, anyone who thinks he just has bad vibes hasn’t tried to find summer day care for young children.

Then there is the rest of the hidden labor that has to happen so people can go to work, that is so often invisible and that has historically been the domain of women: caring for a household and aging relatives, receiving the plumber or delivery truck and, of course, having the time (and money) to make meals, manage doctors appointments, chauffeur kids to after-school activities and clean the house.

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For the most part, the industries that support that kind of invisible labor are more difficult to find, harder to obtain and more expensive to buy than they were four years ago. Those industries also gained a lot of not-so-enjoyable friction. Industry surveys suggest that customer service has gotten worse and consumers are angry about it. That coarsening of consumerism affects millions of people, and women, in particular, pay a price due to the outsize role they play in managing hidden labor.

Jessica Calarco, a sociologist at the University of Wisconsin, calls the way our society relies on families to independently support social reproduction a “D.I.Y. society.” Research demonstrates repeatedly that women, especially, are sacrificing to balance paid work with all that D.I.Y. labor. Healthy economic indicators, like low unemployment, also put the squeeze on women by raising the price and increasing the difficulty of hiring a little help.

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Felecia Phillips Ollie DD (h.c.) is the inspiring leader and founder of The Equality Network LLC (TEN). With a background in coaching, travel, and a career in news, Felecia brings a unique perspective to promoting diversity and inclusion. Holding a Bachelor's Degree in English/Communications, she is passionate about creating a more inclusive future. From graduating from Mississippi Valley State University to leading initiatives like the Washington State Department of Ecology’s Equal Employment Opportunity Program, Felecia is dedicated to making a positive impact. Join her journey on our blog as she shares insights and leads the charge for equity through The Equality Network.

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