Monday, February 11, 2013

Workplace Practices are Failing American Families

See UPDATE at end of this post.

The Center for American Progress (CAP) has a new report out examining the role women play in the American workforce today and changes that have occurred in the American family.  The authors conclude that American businesses, government agencies at all levels, educational institutions and other social institutions are falling far short of meeting the needs of today’s American worker and American families.

Here are some of the key findings:

·         Half of all American workers today are women.  In fact, most American workers today have never known a workplace without women bosses and/or significant numbers of employees who are women.

·         Most mothers today work outside the home.

·         Two-thirds of mothers make a quarter or more of the family income.  Forty percent are either the sole wage earner or contribute as much or more to the family income than their spouse.

·         Two-thirds of low income women are the sole or primary breadwinner in their family.

·         The majority of American families have no one at home during the day to perform tasks women typically performed in the traditional American family—shopping, cooking, cleaning, caring for kids after school, etc.

In spite of these changes, the typical workplace today and other social institutions such as government agencies and schools have workplace and work/family practices that assume that all workers have a stay-at-home spouse or other relative who can deal with family needs and emergencies.

The authors of the CAP report note that workplace practices and government policies today are totally out of sync with the realities of American workers’ lives.

Schools still let children out in the afternoon long before the workday ends and close for three months during the summer—even though the majority of families with children are comprised of either a single working parent or a dual-earning couple.

Most workers—men and women—now have family responsibilities that they must negotiate with their spouses, family members, bosses, colleagues, and employees, as well as the institutions around them, such as the child care center or a doctor’s office that doesn’t have evening or weekend hours—even though so many people work all kinds of hours in our 24/7 economy. These responsibilities include not only caring for children but increasingly caring for an aging generation as well. Yet many workers have little power in negotiating their schedules with their employer, especially in nonunion settings.

The federal government has not updated its policies to aid families to reflect these new realities in the workplace and in the home. And the laws we do have on the books—the provision of unpaid, job-protected leave offered by the Family and Medical Leave Act and the prohibition against sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act—don’t fully meet the needs of today’s workers, especially lower-income workers.

CAP outlines some of the things we need to be doing, most of which will require action at national, state and local level.  These include:

·         Institute predictable and flexible workplace schedules and family-friendly policies in every workplace.

·         Ensure that all American workers have access to paid family and medical leave.

·         Ensure that all American workers have access to earned sick time days.

·         Ensure that all American workers have access to affordable and quality child care and elder care.

·         Collect and analyze national data on the effectiveness of federal, state, and local public policies in supporting American workers and families.

It is time to start creating a new American workplace consistent with the way Americans really live their lives today.

Read more here about this important issue here:

UPDATE:  I should add that this whole issue is not new.  In 1995, Jimmie and I devoted a significant part of our book Beyond Workplace 2000 to the whole issue of work/family conflicts and the failure of American business to address the realities of the changing workforce.  It is sad that we are still talking about this issue and families are still struggling from lack of support nearly 20 years later.  If you want to read what we wrote then, you can still get Beyond Workplace 2000 from Amazon.  Go here:


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