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Not Just A Woman’s Issue—Public Policy For Working Families

August 28, 2018

By Jane LaTour

People with a new baby know just how much “stuff” they have to schlepp around – there’s the diaper bag, the bottle bag, the car seat, the toys, etc. But there are many other burdens for parents. A new paper offers a look at some of these burdens, and unsurprisingly, the vast proportion are borne by women, since women provide the bulk of caring for children

The system continues to make it difficult for working families in the U.S. to thrive.

Startling statistics are studded throughout the research – the work of four female professors—one from Yale, two from Princeton, and one from the National University of Singapore. Most shocking? That “the cost of child care has increased by 65 percent since the 1980s.” Families are paying as much for child care as they are paying for rent. 

Today, 70-percent of mothers with children under 18 are in the work force. The paper emphasizes the degree to which the work-family juggle seems to be getting harder. Members of the working class are expert at the juggling required to balance family and work obligations. So many are stuck in low wage jobs, often without benefits, and, in the new “gig” economy, which places a premium on flexibility, the precarious nature of work is rampant. Shift work used to be set for a certain duration, but no longer. Now people are placed on hold, hostage to the changing demands of their employer, which makes planning for family life –or any life, difficult.  

The United States has never favored family-friendly policies. Subsidized child care and paid family leave, maternity and paternity leave, and tax policies that help to support the huge costs of raising children, while common in other industrialized countries, are absent in America. 

Way back in 2001, Ann Crittenden wrote a book describing how mothers are systematically disadvantaged. She wrote about the “mommy tax” of lost income when women have a child, and other useful information in The Price of Motherhood: Why the Most Important Job in the World is Still the Least Valued.  It still is – and, as the four researchers explain in their paper, for several reasons, it’s getting worse.

The United States has never favored family-friendly policies. Subsidized child care and paid family leave, maternity and paternity leave, and tax policies that help to support the huge costs of raising children, while common in other industrialized countries, are absent in America.

On June 17, 2018, The New York Times ran a story about “Penalizing Pregnancy: From Walmart to Wall Street – How America Wrongs Working Mothers.” These are issues that my generation grappled with but failed to find solutions for and now a new generation of young women and their partners must face. The difficulty of obtaining good, affordable day care is only one aspect of the burdens of family life.  The costs can be crushing. Struggling with individual solutions; developing a cooperative approach; or organizing to change public policy—these are some options available to today’s parents. Looking into the experience of other countries might provide some models—such as Sweden—or France. While the fight over “Obamacare” and the Affordable Care Act rages in the public sphere, and coverage for maternity care is considered by the Republican architects of these “reforms” a non-essential part of an insurance package, other countries have managed to provide supportive policies for families. As resistance to the right-wing agenda builds, perhaps it is time to include family-friendly policies as part of our comprehensive agenda.

August 28, 2018

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