Investing in our human infrastructure

Riane Eisler | 2/10/2009, 7:24 a.m.

Investing in our human infrastructure

Over half a million people lost their jobs last month. There’s no question about it — we need a job-creation plan. The real question is: What kind of plan will most quickly stimulate the economy, and at the same time provide the best long-term investment for our nation?

President Obama’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Job-Creation Plan should be used to massively invest in our human infrastructure. Study after study shows that when our nation invests in its people, starting in childhood, the economic benefits are enormous.

By creating, subsidizing and providing training for jobs in child care, early education, health care, elder care and other “caring industries,” as well as supporting caring work in homes, we quickly stimulate the economy, help families, radically reduce poverty and violence, reward women’s economic contributions, save billions in crime and prisons, and develop the “high-quality human capital” needed for our post-industrial economy.

Our economic crisis is an opportunity to lay foundations for a sustainable and equitable economic system instead of just trying to patch up an economy based on unsustainable consumerism, consumer debt and environmental practices. The current economic meltdown is not due simply to the globalization of unregulated capitalism. The problem goes much deeper — and so must the solutions.

The financial return on investing in caring jobs and home activities is huge. We need a new economic system that really works, both in the short and long term. To make the job-creation plan more effective, we must consider that:

- America and the world are in the midst of a sea change as we shift from the industrial era to the knowledge/information era. Many of the jobs being lost in manufacturing and other fields will be gone for good as we move toward more automation and robotics. Our most effective investment is in human capital development, starting in childhood and continuing all through life.

- A job-creation program component that focuses on the work of caring and care-giving will stimulate economic recovery and develop high-capacity human capital capable of pioneering new frontiers of innovation across the board in every sector of society: culturally, socially, technologically and environmentally.

- Neuroscience shows that the quality of child care directly affects the development of human capacities and potentials; care-giving produces what economists call “public goods” and should be economically valued as civic work.

- The high-tech green jobs and infrastructure construction jobs proposed by the job-creation program as currently formulated are still largely “men’s work.” Yet the time has passed when male “heads of family” were the sole breadwinners. The majority of families are two wage-earner families or woman-headed families. An effective economic stimulus program also provides jobs, training and subsidies where the female labor force is concentrated, such as child care, education, health care and elder care. Studies show that women buy 80 percent of household goods: the food, clothing and other essentials that keep the core economy going.

- Support of “caring work” will radically reduce poverty and violence, as well as their enormous economic, social and personal costs. In the U.S., as in most nations, the poor are disproportionately women and children.