Saturday, July 24, 2010

Economics - Home style.

On Monday of this week, I got laid off. It isn't exactly the greatest situation, but I can't say I'm not a little bit releived. I've been pretty unsatisfied in my position for quite a while, and I know it had to happen eventually. I was just hoping to at least get past the wedding first.

But life doesn't usually ask for my opinion before happening, so here we are.
I've spent some time looking through internet job boards, asking friends and family for job leads, and trying to find out what my next step is. Yesterday (Friday) I had an interview with a company about 30 minutes from home. The position would be a longer commute than my last job, and the pay is not competitive, but it's the first interview I got, so I figured I should give it the old college try. As often happens in an interview, they went through my resume to find out likes/dislikes, strengths, and weaknesses. I have to say it was the most fun interview that I've ever had. Maybe I'm getting better at interviews, or maybe there just wasn't so much pressure, given that I wasn't (and still am not) so sure it's worth it. For whatever reason, I was very comfortable and had no problem opening up to the man doing the interview (my potential future supervisor).

When we got to the bottom of the resume, in the "hobbies and interests" category, he read aloud "Nutrition for Disease prevention in Humans and Canines" and was obviously somewhat puzzled, and somewhat intrigued. That's when I got excited. He asked how that had anything to do with my desirability as a candidate for employment. My response? "It's all about Efficiency, and I think Nutrition is the future of Home Economics, and Efficiency is the ultimate goal."

See my education in economics is all about efficiency. I joke that I got my degree in frugality, and there are some who have said that I'm a penny pincher. I won't argue with them, I am a penny pincher, but I don't think that's a bad thing. It's all about efficiency and "bang for your buck" so to speak.

So what does nutrition have to do with efficiency and Economics? Well, lets start with a history lesson..

I'd like to start first with Home Economics the dreaded "Home Ec" class.
It's been a long time since I took a "Home Ec" class, and I'm pretty sure it wasn't actually called "Home Ec" because the public school system I grew up in was a little silly that way, and probably paid millions of dollars to find a less oppresive name. But the gist of it is still the same. You spend a few days baking cupcakes and cleaning things with baking soda, and you get an A. Well, that's all I remember anyway.. I may have missed a few classes, though. I think mine was combined with woodworking class to make it more gender-neutral. Whatever. I told you it was a long time ago.

But Home Economics is not "how to bake cupcakes". I'm pretty sure you can read instructions for that on the back of any betty crocker box in the grocery store. To know what Home Economics is, one must know what Economics is.
The leyman's terms definition is "the study of how to distribute limited resources." and the goal is maximum efficiency. So, Home Economics is "the study of how to distribute limited resournces in the home for maximum efficiency"
Well I think anyone can undersand limited resources. Whether you're talking about your paycheck or the number of hours in a day, or eyes in the back of your head, or hands to get things done, there just never seems to be enough of them. You have limited resources, and you have to decide how what to do with them. Sometimes that means you pay the electricity bill instead of going out for caviar. Sometimes that means sending your child to daycare instead of not getting paid for a day. You have to figure out the balance.

The original Home Economists were housewives. In a time when women weren't allowed education, or careers, their job was making their husband's paycheck support the household. Even now, there are some traditional families that will tell you the Husband's role is to bring home the money, and the Wife's role is to budget it and make it work. Some people may consider that sort of perspective to be sexist, but the fact remains that the perspective exists. Obviously these days there are some situations where the roles are reversed, and there are increasingly more house-husbands. Especially now than women are allowed into higher education and therefore more profitable jobs, in many cases even if the family still supports those traditional ideas, the most efficient use of the Wife's time is to work, because she brings in more money by working than she could save by not working.
There are other situations where people don't agree with the traditional gender-roles, but the mother still stays home with the kids. This is especially practical when the Wife?mom does not have profitable enough skills to offset the cost of child care. Around here, child care costs about $155/week for a mediocre daycare fascility. That's over $600 a month. If a mother were to go to work, she'd have to make at least $8,000 a year totally devoted to child care to be financially practical. That's in addition to whatever gas, insurance, additional dry cleaning bills, eating lunches out because there's no kitchen at work, so on and so forth, that she will suddenly be paying because she decided to go to work.  If she makes $100k/year, it's probably still worth it for her to go to work. If she makes minimum wage, it's probably not.

So for the sake of continuity, we'll use the story of a house wife. If that's offensive to you, pretend I'm using the term house husband, and maybe you'll get over it.
According to the traditional role, the housewife must take her husbands paycheck and use it to pay the mortgage, pay the utilities, pay the grocery bill, and keep him in an appropriate condition to maintain his job, (like doing his laundry, or ironing his uniform). All of that is pretty straight forward, and we all have to do it to some extent. But back when home economics got it's start, there was a little more to it.

Joan Jacobs Brumberg, (Stephen H. Weiss Presidential Fellow and Professor, Cornell University College of Human Ecology and author of The Body Project: an Intimate History of American Girls.) said "Home Economists in early 20th century America had a major role in the Progressive Era, the development of the welfare state, the triumph of modern hygiene and scientific medicine, the application of scientific research in a number of industries, and the popularization of important research on child development, family health, and family economics."

The things that stand out the most to me in that statement are hygiene, medicine, development, and health. See, people tend to forget that brushing your teeth is a fairly new concept. Or that throwing your poo out the window was the norm all too recently. To housewives only a few centuries ago, Home Economics was not only about getting the bills paid, but it was about survival. Women had to decide at some point in history that it was more important for their children to brush their teeth and wash their hands. Which means they had to decide that it was "worth it" to spend the family's paycheck on toothbrushes, toothpaste, and soap.

Sometimes it wasn't, or at least they didn't think it was. But over time both toothbrushing and handwashing have become the norm. It became for efficient to brush teeth now, than to deal with the pain/agony/expense of a cavity later.. or if you didn't fix the cavity, to deal with the heart disease that is a proven result. Of course, now there are too many diseases to name that we can get from not washing our hands enough, but when we didn't know what they were, it was up to housewives to decide if it was worth preventing.
Although not everyone individually, but certainly housewives and therefore society as a whole, has eventually determined that these ailments are definitely worth preventing. Housewives brought it home. It's more efficient to wash your hands now, than to pay for medical care, or to deal with the emotional cost of death in the family. I like to think of hygeine as the beginnings of preventative medicine.
Fortunately, we've gotten a little further along in terms of general hygeine, so it's not as much of a concern for all but the families with the most limited resources, and even then, there are "shortcuts" to hygeine that still make it the more efficient option (Thank goodness for Baking soda!) Still, I think there's a lot of room for improvement in terms of preventative healthcare in the home, and I believe nutrition is the riches source of potential improvement.

The example I like to use is Sally and the baby. Sally has a baby that cries, and she has figured out that when the baby cries, she can give it broccoli, and the baby stops crying while he eats the broccoli. Sally goes to the store, and sees that carrots are $1/lb and that broccoli is $1/lb. But the baby doesn't stop crying when he eats carrots, only when he eats broccoli.  So, naturally, Sally buys the broccoli.
Now what if instead of broccoli, we call it brownies. The baby stops crying when he eats a brownie, and not when he eats a carrot. Will she buy the brownie? Maybe, but it will be a much more calculated decision because unless she lives under a rock, she knows that a child cannot survive on brownies, and she knows there's serious health risks involved in giving her child brownies every time he cries. She may decide that the baby gets one brownie a day, if he eats all of his carrots. For her, that is the point of efficiency. But the truth is, she's just eyeballing it. She doesn't know the actual long term cost of a brownie per day, and neither do I, and so there's no way either of us could guess in a million years how many servings of carrots "cancels out" the negative effects of a brownie.. if it cancels out anything at all. We just make the best guess we can.

The best Home Economists are the ones that always try to make better guesses on maximum efficiency in their home.
While I am not a mother, and with the exception of my recent change in career status and my upcoming nuptuals, I am not a housewife, I still believe the Home Economist in any home (whether it be the traditional kind or not) is the harbinger of efficiency in the home. It is up to her (or him, or them) to balance the budget, but also to prevent any situations that would jeapordize the status quo.Granted, there is more to the equation than any one person can handle, but that's why housewives get mad when you say they don't work, cuz they do, and they do a lot. The closest thing I have that can relate to being a mother, is caring for my dogs.

I look at "Nutrition for Disease Prevention in Humans and Canines" in the same light as Sally and the baby. I beleive it's cheaper to prevent a disease than to treat it, or deal with the ramifications later. But I don't just mean that it's cheaper in terms of budget. It's also a lot less stress. Ask anyone who has to give their dog (or child) regular insulin shots. It's a lot to deal with.
There are plenty of fantastic dog foods on the market that cost an arm and a leg, and some that cost your first born child. But are they efficient? My household budget plays a role in that efficiency equation too, and it's hard to justify spending more on dog food than we spend on people food. But then, we could eat better too. To really figure out the point of efficiency, I'd have to know the exact risk of each different potential health problem, and how each ingredient combination would improve or worsen that risk. It could be done. Somebody, somewhere, may have already done the math, but the trick is just to do the best you can with that you've got, and always be open to improvement.
Whether it's dog food or frozen dinners, there's pro's and con's to anything you can buy. Either it's lacking in something, has too much of something (probably calories and sodium at least!) or it's just too much money, or maybe some combination thereof. Hopefully I can utilize this blog to help you improve efficiency in your home. Or at least help you guess a little better!

No comments:

Post a Comment