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Shaping Family-Friendly Reforms

The kind of information provided in the report “Three Faces of Work-Family Conflict” should help progressives to shape family-friendly reforms so they will appeal to Americans at different spots on the social spectrum

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The kind of information provided in the report “Three Faces of Work-Family Conflict” should help progressives to shape family-friendly reforms so they will appeal to Americans at different spots on the social spectrum—and should help progressives assess whether an effective coalition can be formed to support passage of a given policy proposal. This is not to say that the best policy, in every context, provides identical benefits to every income group: self-interest is a powerful—but not the only—motivator. If a policy proposal does not offer many—or any—benefits to a given group, then the challenge is to find an alternative way to inspire that group to participate actively in a coalition in support of the proposal.

Moreover, in some circumstances, class resentments can undermine the larger progressive agenda by driving American politics to the right. This is not to say that easy answers exist. A key challenge is that crucial benefit programs such as childcare subsidies are perpetually underfunded, which may make it logical in some contexts to limit recipients to the most needy. The key point, rarely acknowledged, is that this strategy entails significant political costs both in the short and the long term.

Further research is also needed to ascertain whether the slam-dunk message for all income groups has not yet been identified, which is likely given the novelty of this new approach to policy analysis, or whether no single message unites all income groups. But one finding was clear: the “good for business” message that played among professional women was not very appealing to women in the middle. This suggests the need for broad public outreach, with different messages targeted to different groups.

But in this preliminary research, both groups of women felt that what was really needed was mutual respect between employers and employees. Both groups felt their lives lacked balance, and that the current economy makes it necessary to prioritize work, often at the expense of family. Neither group responded strongly to the phrase “guaranteed minimum,” and both groups had mixed and often negative reactions to a government role in the economy, jobs, and expanded workplace benefits. Yet focus group participants reported high levels of support for the Family and Medical Leave Act. Again, Americans hate government “interference”—until it becomes a cherished “right.”

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