Monday, June 01, 2009

New York Magazine Drives Against the Convention Wisdom on Laid-Off Dads

I have no idea what to make of this line from a recent New York Magazine cover story (thanks, Matt!) on how the recession is reshaping the Big Apple:
As a rule, able-bodied, unemployed men spend an average of just three and a half extra minutes per day actively caring for their kids, according to Jay Stewart, an economist at the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Most spend their extra time on sleep and “leisure activities” (including almost two extra hours of TV), though they do spend an extra hour and 42 minutes on “unpaid household work,” which includes passive forms of child supervision (like being in the same room).
First, I suspect this is historical data, so it doesn't automatically apply to New York's newly unemployed. Maybe they are just like the unemployed of old. But maybe not.

Second, let's be clear about what "unemployed" means: by definition, it means that you're actively looking for new work, not making a formal shift to take on the household duties. In fact, against all common sense, the BLS believes that "at-home dads" (according to the silly, undercounted stat released each spring) and the "unemployed" are mutually exclusive groups, demographically.

Third the piece makes it sound like "unpaid household work" is mostly sitting around, ignoring the kids. That's certainly part of the definition, but most of the "unpaid household work" is actually "unpaid household work," not second-rate childcare.

Those are my attempted explanations. There is a fourth: the laid-off guy do a terrible job of stepping up at home. If it's true that the average unemployed guy spends an average of 3.5 extra minutes a day with the kids, that's absolutely unconscionable. Anyone have any perspective on that stat?

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