EVERY year - women do trillions of dollars worth of unpaid household work. In the United States alone, that total amounted to roughly $1.2 trillion in 2019, a figure nearly the size of New York State economy.

In BRITAIN, the statistics agency has calculator that lets you earn the value of chores like doing laundry, providing child care and taking others where they need to go.

Thirty-five hours of child care and five hours of cooking is valued at about 570 pounds $779 a week.

The fact that the economics establishment counts these chores as work - work still done disproportionately by women - and assign them value is a win for feminist economists who spend decades arguing that much of women's contribution to society was economically invisible.

Now Nina Banks, an associate professor of economics at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania, is taking taking that idea another step. She argues that there is another form of work that has been historically overlooked and uncounted : community activism by Black and other marginalized women.

''Not only are we doing paid work for our communities and paid work in our households,'' Dr. Banks said. ''We are also doing a third layer of community work - we're exhausted.''

Recognizing this collective activism as work reveals the extra burden Black and Brown women are under, she said.

In an article published in the December issue The Review of Black Political Economy, Dr. Banks traces this unpaid community work to the early 20th century and the creation of cooperatives and other associations to provide services governments neglected.

She argues that these activities outside the market economy - with no buying or selling of goods and services, and no paid labor - were incorrectly considered political activity. But the grass-roots organizations behind the community work improved the environment, housing and access to food.

Simply put, if someone else had been paid to do it, it would have been counted as work, and a contribution to the economy.

Dr. Banks has spent years trying to right the historical record on behalf of  Black women, a mostly lonely endeavour in economics. While she has been scouring archives, much of the rest of the economics profession has followed the trend of toward more math- or data based research in other topics.

Dr. Banks interest in revisiting history is less surprising when you consider her most distinctive early memory of economics :

When she was an undergraduate at Hood College in Maryland in the 1980s, an adjunct professor explained the gender and racial wage gap with theories about human capital and worker productivity, suggesting that white men are simply more productive.

She was the only Black student in the class, and during the break she went to the basement and cried by the vending machine.

''I was so startled and hurt by what he was saying and I knew it wasn't true,'' Dr. Banks said. ''But I didn't have the tools to be able to confront him.''

In 1985, a group of Black women in Los Angeles came together to stop the construction of a toxic waste incinerator in their neighborhood, enlisting professors and health officials in their cause.

Two years later, the city dropped its plans. The group. Concerned Citizens of South Central Los Angles, still exist as a nonprofit organization, developing affordable housing, running youth programs and cleaning streets.

The World Students Society thanks author Eshe Nelsen.


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