On the road to economic recovery, gender inequality, unequal access to child care, return to face-to-face work, and access to vaccines are some of the many pressing questions surrounding return to work in the United States and recovery of the world economy. For Esther Duflo, a French-American economist and MIT professor who is the youngest person who receive a Nobel Prize in Economics and the only second woman to receive the award, to understand the lives of the poorest and how to design measures against poverty, it has been her mission long before the arrival of the pandemic.
When it comes to the debate over whether the state unemployment benefits are responsible for workers choosing to stay out of the job market, Duflo commented in an interview with CNBC that economists like her don’t settle for an opinion not based on actual research. About 25 governors have eliminated unemployment benefits before they are finalized at the federal level in hopes of solving companies’ hiring problems. Still, Duflo agrees, as do many economists, who do not believe this is even the case.
Duflo says that it does not mean that increased financial stimulus and government support did not influence the way people plan and act at all. But the economist and Nobel laureate made it clear that comments about Americans not wanting to return to work are wrong. People may, in fact, need more time to choose the right job and, in many cases, to relocate to get it. Given the few weeks that have passed since states suspended unemployment benefits, data shows that labor force participation has not increased, and in some cases, it has hurt the economy by reducing household spending.
The latest number of initial jobless claims released Thursday rose, but there are a declining number of claims, the lowest unemployment level since March 2020.There are still more than 10 million Americans who are not enrolled in pandemic-related relief programs, yet Duflo said unemployment benefits give people flexibility and don’t make people lazy. As people try to return to work, childcare costs weigh more on women than on men. Many women are forced to stay home, not because they do not want to go back to work, but because their jobs do not offer flexible options, do not pay enough to cover childcare costs, or do not have access to childcare providers for their kids.
These problems are not new, and the pandemic has brought them back to the fore as women faced the hardest hit by job losses in the United States. While politicians argue about the infrastructure program, the United States should discuss “human infrastructure” such as childcare, since, in other regions such as Europe, it is considered an effort of society, while in the United States, the responsibility only falls on mothers, Duflo said. COVID-19 has led to a reassessment of the balance between work and family, but it has not solved the big problems of professional women. Before the pandemic, it was estimated by World Bank that it would take 150 years to eliminate the gap of inequality between men and women. Duflo further added that the global inequality in access to vaccines is a disgrace, as richer countries, such as Europeans and the United States, are stockpiling vaccines when a small percentage of people in the poorest countries are vaccinated. In May, the International Monetary Fund said it was necessary to spend $ 50 billion to vaccinate 40% of the world’s population by the end of 2021. Duflo claimed that $ 50 billion is a small amount that the United States could afford compared to the trillions of dollars spent on federal stimulus packages.