As I write this week’s newsletter, I am listening to the White House Summit on Working Families. The Summit, hosted by the White House, the Department of Labor (DOL) and the Center for American Progress (CAP), was held on Monday to set an agenda for a 21st century workplace that works for all Americans, with a special focus on women and their families.
The Summit was designed to explore how, as the demographics of our workforce change, our workplaces can change with them to support working families, boost businesses’ bottom lines, and ensure America’s global economic competitiveness in the coming decades. The Summit convened businesses, economists, labor leaders, legislators, advocates and the media for a discussion on issues facing the entire spectrum of working families – from low-wage workers to corporate executives; from young parents to baby boomers caring for their own aging parents.
Virtually all of the nation’s leaders talk about valuing children and families, growing a strong and competitive economy and modernizing workplaces to better meet people’s needs. Yet change has been slow and the country’s public policies still fail to reflect some fundamental realities: In 21st century America, women are more likely than ever to be family breadwinners. Most children live in families in which all parents work. And too many families are living paycheck to paycheck.
Workers and their families urgently need public policies that give them a fair shot by helping them meet the dual demands of work and family while holding on to and advancing in their jobs, getting paid fairly, and providing for themselves and their loved ones. Yet the United States is failing to adopt the programs and policies that would help them meet these basic needs. For expecting and new parents in particular, the failure to provide adequate workplace policies means that the birth or adoption of a child— which ought to be a glorious event — often marks the beginning of a family’s financial struggles.
The absence of family friendly public policies in the United States leaves pregnant women vulnerable to wage loss or health risks as they strive to work through their pregnancies. The absence of family friendly public policies also leaves many new parents without pay and in danger of losing their jobs when they need or want time away from work to care for a newborn or newly adopted child. Too many parents must manage conflicts between needing to care for a child and needing to return to work to earn income before they or their children are ready. Back at work, many new mothers find it difficult to continue nursing, face discrimination and worse. As their children grow, parents often face significant challenges in meeting their own needs, the needs of their families and the needs of their employers. And they often face these challenges without modernized standards that would help ease these pressures.
If public policies addressed these challenges, the nation would go a long way toward creating a more equitable and productive economy, powered by working people who can better provide for and care for themselves and their loved ones. The nation needs a comprehensive set of policies that recognize people’s responsibilities as their children grow, including job-protected paid sick days to care for a sick child or a child needing preventive medical care, fair and flexible work arrangements, affordable child and after-school care, and job-protected time away from work to attend school meetings. Achieving equal pay for women is also critical to creating and maintaining economic security for families.
What are family friendly policies?
➢Employer or workplace policies, in both business and government, that make it possible for employees to more easily balance family and work, and to fulfill both their family and work obligations. Some possible family-friendly workplace policies:
- Flex-time. For employees with family obligations, control of their time may be the most valuable benefit an employer can give. Flex-time – a flexible work schedule – allows people to choose when they work, as long as they put in their hours every week. Depending upon the employer, that may mean complete freedom to design their own work schedule, or being able to choose from among several set options (a four-day, rather than a five-day week, for instance, or days off mid-week instead of on the weekend, or starting and ending the workday several hours earlier or later than normal.
- Job sharing. Two employees may share a single position, by each working a fraction of the necessary time. In that way, people can hold, or continue to hold, the position they want, and still have time to spend with children or aging parents, or take care of other family responsibilities.
- Telecommuting is generally possible only where the employee’s work can be done independently, and where the work (computer programming, for instance, or writing) can be translated to computer or print.
- Child care. On-site child care isn’t the only option here. An employer might subsidize employees’ child care, paying all or some part of approved arrangements. Other possibilities are to provide referrals to reliable child care, or reserve slots at particular facilities for employees’ children.
- Parental leave. This is a short-term option that allows a parent to take an afternoon or a day off to pick up a sick child at school or tend to one at home, attend a school performance or athletic event, or otherwise minister to a child’s needs.
- Tuition for employee education.
- College scholarships or loans for employees’ children. An employer may award one or more scholarships a year, on a merit or need basis, to the children of employees, or may actually pay or lend some amount of tuition for each employee’s child who attends college.
➢Government laws, regulations, and social policies that recognize the importance of families to society, and act to meet, directly or indirectly, the needs of children, parents, and the oldest generation. These might include national proposals such as:
- Family And Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act to establish a paid family and medical leave insurance program
- The Healthy Families Act to set a paid sick days standard
- The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act to combat pregnancy discrimination.
Why should we promote family-friendly policies in business and government?
We need to promote family-friendly policies because 63 percent of children in the U.S. live in families where all parents work. But the lower the family’s income, the less likely the parent’s employer is to provide any form of paid leave. Family friendly policies are good for families, businesses, and the economy because:
- They allow parents to spend more and better time with their children.
- Family-friendly policies reduce stress not only for parents, but for anyone caring for a family member, or coping with a difficult personal medical problem.
- They allow more choices, making it possible for employees to exercise more control over their lives.
- Employees taking advantage of family-friendly policies are more productive.
- By creating a better work-family balance, family-friendly policies allow employees in two-income or single parent families to improve their economic status and quality of life.
- Family-friendly policies help employers keep valuable employees.
- Family-friendly employers have more to offer new job candidates, and are thus able to recruit and hire the best.
- Family-friendly policies generate employee loyalty.
- Family-friendly policies are better for family stability and for children, thus improving the outlook for the next generation.
- They allow more people to work, and thus to contribute to the society.
- Family friendly policies are fairer to employees, reflecting, better than many other business practices the values of an egalitarian and democratic society.
GROWING UP GRANITE
New Hampshire gets a D in a report analyzing how each state supports – or doesn’t support – new parents in terms of such things as leave time and job protection.
Vicki Shabo, one of the report’s authors, says the Granite State ranks near the bottom when it comes to improving on basic federal standards for protecting parents in the workplace.
The unfortunate thing she says is New Hampshire has plenty of other company with 31 states that rank near rock bottom.
“New Hampshire gets a D, but offers pregnancy disability leave to women in the private sector, and it also offers better protection for state employees,” she points out. “That’s the only way New Hampshire really improves on federal law – which leaves millions of workers out.”
The report, from the National Partnership for Women and Families, is titled “Expecting Better: A State-by-State Analysis of Laws That Help New Parents.”
It was released Monday to coincide with the White House Summit on Working Families.
Shabo says some discouraging grades were handed out nationwide.
“The state with the highest grade is California, which received an A minus,” she says. “But a striking 17 states receive an F.
“They do nothing at all beyond what federal law provides to help new and expecting parents. Thirty-one states in total get a grade of D or F.”
Still, Shabo says she finds reason for optimism in the report.
“Since our last report, we’ve seen a number of states take action to support new and expecting parents,” she says. “So there is progress on the horizon.
The group’s previous report was in 2012. ~ Mike Clifford, Public News Service – NH