Dear Barack: Our Ladybits Can Stimulate The American Economy


When Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi caved on including contraception funding in the stimulus package, many people got annoyed. Economics professor Nancy Folbre crunched the numbers to show that contraception funding is plenty stimulating.

She starts off with the obvious:

Increased spending on family planning (including contraceptives) would generate about as many direct and indirect jobs as any other health expenditures, and probably more than an equivalent tax cut.

I mean, obviously. If the government gives money to people for expenditures — especially when, unlike last year’s tax rebate, they can’t use to to pay down debt — it stimulates the economy. Getting a birth control prescription means a doctor’s visit (paying the doctor, nurse and receptionist at a minimum), a Pap smear (lab worker) and getting the prescription filled (pharmacist and potentially the check-out person) — let alone the workers who manufacture the pharmaceuticals and packaging who will get paid and the potential necessity for follow-up care.

Folbre, though, says it’s more than that:

The long-term benefits include significant reductions in unplanned births and abortions. Teenagers, in particular, would benefit. A research paper by Melissa Kearney and Phillip Levine finds that recent state-level Medicaid policy changes reduced births among teenagers by more than 4 percent. The authors offer estimates of the cost per averted birth, which could be compared with the social costs – to children, parents, and society – of unwanted pregnancies.

That paper, in fact, estimates that each averted birth due to the very changes in Medicaid policy that Pelosi and Obama allowed Republicans to scare out of the stimulus package would save the government $6,800 (in 2003 dollars).

But beyond the immediate economy-stimulating effects of allowing women better access to contraception and the cost savings of contraception over unwanted pregnancies, there’s more:

In a now-classic article entitled “The Power of the Pill,” economists Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz document the ways that greater access to oral contraceptives increased women’s access to higher education and better-paying jobs. A more recent article by Martha Bailey, entitled “More Power to the Pill” details its positive effects on women’s paid employment.

Surprise! In a society that offers no particular economic or social benefits to women who have children and, in fact, does little or nothing to help them achieve educational or vocational benchmarks (like, say, providing access to affordable child care) if they happen to do so outside of a traditional marriage, women that can afford to use contraceptives and not get pregnant tend to get more education and thus better jobs.

But, hey. John Boehner and the Republicans don’t give a shit about actual economics or the lives of poor women. They’re just looking to score political points and get re-elected in two years. Most of us had hoped that the Change(TM) that Obama was going to bring to Washington meant more that he would get important shit done, not that he would just reverse the Bush Administration’s policies of not talking to the opposition. If the alternative is caving on all that important shit to change the “tone” in Washington, I’m happy for the city to keep singing off-key while the President rams whatever he said he wanted through Congress.

Sex and the Stimulus [New York Times]

Related: Subsidized Contraception, Fertility, and Sexual Behavior [Social Science Research Network]
The Power of the Pill: Oral Contraceptives and Women’s Career and Marriage Decisions [RePEc]
More Power to the Pill: The Impact of Contraceptive Freedom on Women’s Life Cycle Labor Supply [Quarterly Journal of Economics]

Earlier: Obama, Pelosi Cave On Contraceptive Funding

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