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About Our Working Nation

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When we look back over the 20th century and try to understand what has happened to workers and their families, the movement of women out of the home and into paid employment stands out as one of the most important transformations. This change in how women spend their days affects everything.

  • Inside the home, the majority of families no longer have someone to deal with life’s everyday hum-drum details or emergencies—from grocery shopping or being home for a UPS delivery to picking up a sick child from school or helping an ailing, elderly neighbor.
  • Workplaces are no longer the domain of men: Women now make up half (49.8 percent) of employer’s payrolls. While men and women still tend work in different kinds of jobs, most workers under 40 have never known a workplace without female bosses and female colleagues.
  • Schools still let children out in the early 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—like the child-care center or doctor’s office that doesn’t have evening or weekend hours, even though so many people work odd hours in our 24/7 economy.

Yet, in the United States, our policy landscape remains stuck in an idealized past where the typical family was a married-for-life couple with one breadwinner and full-time homemaker. Our policies more often than not implicitly assume that families have someone at home that can provide care—from school hours that are inconsistent with workday patterns to hospitals that send home recovering patients who need assistance, to workplace standards that put no limits on mandatory overtime, require predictable schedules, or even requires employers to simply talk with their employees about the kinds of workplace flexibility they need.

Quite simply, women employed outside the home changes everything. We need to ensure that everyone—men and women, parents and non-parents alike—is able to meet the challenges of the workplace, while being able to provide care for their family. We need new ground rules that recognize this transformation.