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How working at home factors into the economy

Ann Romney wipes lipstick off Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's cheek as he prepares to speak at a rally in Zanesville, Ohio, March 5, 2012, ahead of voting on Super Tuesday.

Jeremy Hobson: The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits jumped last week by 13,000 to 380,000. That is the highest level since January.

And it’s here we’ll start now with Diane Swonk, chief economist with Misirow Financial. She’s with us live, as always, from Chicago. Good morning.

Diane Swonk: Good morning.

Hobson: So Diane, is this weekly jobless claims number more bad news for the markets after last week’s disappointing monthly report?

Swonk: Well, I think we have to keep it in context that we did have an earlier than usual Easter after last year’s later than usual Easter and that does mess up some of these numbers a bit, that probably added about 10,000 to the number. That said, we also had upward revisions to the previous week and what it tells us is, yes, the world is still not a perfect place. We saw a light of hiring in the beginning of the year because of unseasonably warm winter weather and now we’re getting some payback to that because many of the people who were hired, are already hired.

Hobson: All right, well let me as you about something else that’s job related. There’s this controversy that started I guess last night when this Democratic consultant named Hilary Rosen said that Mitt Romney’s wife, Ann Romney had, "Never worked a day in her life." Ann Romney comes back and responds on Twitter that she chose to stay home and raise five boys, “believe me it was hard work” she wrote. Now, taking the politics out of it, Diane if we can, how do economists like you factor in the work that’s done by stay-at-home moms?

Swonk: This has been an issue that’s been going on since the 1970s when baby boomers en masse started to enter the labor force, women in particular started to enter the labor force en masse and work instead of stay at home. And what we really see is, it’s very hard to calculate it directly in the numbers and there’s been many estimates of what their contribution is and clearly they are making a contribution at the very high end of the income spectrum and at the very low end of the income spectrum where you can’t afford daycare.

What they’re doing is making it more productive for the higher income earner who happens to be a man in this case, be able to work and do their jobs. So there’s no question it’s showing up implicitly in the overall GDP of the U.S. economy but it’s not getting, of course, maybe the deserved credit it gets for the role that women play across the economy and this is an ongoing issue for both sides of the aisle.

Hobson: Diane Swonk, chief economist for Mesirow Financial. Thanks a lot.

Swonk: Thank you.

About the author

Diane Swonk is chief economist with Mesirow Financial, based in Chicago.

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