I suppose there are people who might be surprised to find themselves getting solid economic analysis from a food blogger. I am not one of them. I’ve actually been waiting for this moment since March.

 

Deb Perelman is one of my favorite food bloggers. Her blog, Smitten Kitchen, details her adventures cooking for her growing family in an impossibly tiny kitchen in New York City. She has a great reputation for funny writing, great photos, and reliable and delicious recipes. (I am NOT kidding about the coffee cake.)

 

But last week, she did something a little different. In the business section of today’s New York Times, Perelman has a great piece titled, “In the Covid-19 Economy, You Can Have a Kid or a Job. You Can’t Have Both.” The article is a testament from a working mom with two young children and a husband who has been laid off, who is trying to hold everything together through the pandemic. And she’s just been told that the coming school year–the promise of which has been a beacon of sanity for parents everywhere–will, in her area, have her children attending physical school one week out of every three.

 

Perelman’s article, which you should read immediately, is not the kind of anguished, inchoate cry we have been led to expect by articles that focus on parental burnout, exhaustion, and stress. Certainly, that frustration is in her article as well. But the article is about the economic costs of her school district’s choice, analyzed by someone who is in the middle of experiencing them. She writes:

my family, as a social and economic unit, cannot operate forever in the framework authorities envision for the fall. There are so many ways that the situation we’ve been thrust into, in which businesses are planning to reopen without any conversation about the repercussions on families with school-age children, is even more untenable for others.

 

As I said, I’ve been waiting for this moment. I have a history of fascination with economic thinking as expressed in non economic works–and particularly with the economic thinking of people who are in the daily grit of working blue collar jobs and doing household work. I think their diaries and letters and interviews and books of advice tell us at least as much about the economic circumstances under which they were written as do articles by economists–probably more. 

 

This is why I spend a lot of time with books like Round About a Pound a Week, All Our Kin, Working, and How to Run Your Home Without Help. All of these works give us direct access to the lived experience of people managing daunting economic circumstances. They let us SEE people thinking economically, rather than leaving us to surmise from a distance.

 

I think Perelman is right about the unsustainable nature of the burdens–financial, educational, social, and psychological–that working parents are being asked to carry right now. I think she is right that New York City’s plan for schoolchildren to have one week on/two weeks off is an absolute disaster. More important than that, though, I think her voice, and the voices of countless other bloggers, diarists, and letter writers like her, are vital economic data that can help us think more clearly about policy now, and will help us have a better understanding of the tribulations of 2020 when it is a matter of economic history. 

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