Will Economic Trends Change Family Dynamics?

CAP Action Testimony to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

CAP Action's Heather Boushey testifies to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on how women's increasing role as the family breadwinner may necessitate policy changes.

Stay-at-home dad Bob Hurley poses with his son Conner. Hurley decided to stay home with his boys seven years ago when his wife had a better job opportunity.
Stay-at-home dad Bob Hurley poses with his son Conner. Hurley decided to stay home with his boys seven years ago when his wife had a better job opportunity.

Read the full testimony (CAP Action)

For over a generation now, families have struggled to achieve the right balance between their responsibilities on the job and their responsibilities at home. Most children—over 70 percent—grow up in a family with either a working single parent or with two parents who both work. Because both men and women are overwhelmingly likely to be working, most families do not have a stay-at-home parent or anyone available to provide care if a family member falls ill. This means that most workers are also caregivers.

The recession thus far is leading to higher unemployment among men than women. As of March 2009—which is the latest data available—men have lost nearly four out of every five jobs shed since the recession began in December 2007. As of February 2009, women comprise half the labor force (49.7 percent). This means that, in millions of U.S. households, a woman is supporting the family.

This has a number of implications for families:

  • Families will increasingly rely on women’s earnings, which are typically lower than men’s and are less likely to provide health insurance.
  • The poor economy and lack of job creation mean that families will need to ensure that they do what they can to keep parents working. Losing a job because a parent needs some time off to care for a sick child, for example, will create increased hardships for families since finding a new job is now so much more difficult. The impact of family responsibility discrimination on family well-being is potentially more devastating than ever before.
  • Families are increasingly relying on workers who are working less than full-time, so ensuring that those workers have access to health insurance and fair pay is increasingly important.

These new trends, driven by how the recession is playing out, should shape our thinking about what policies are most important to support working families who struggle to balance being good employees with being good caretakers.

Before I move on, I want to say a few words about the recovery plan.

The recession is turning out to be deeper and more protracted than many had predicted few months ago. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was a down payment on creating jobs over the coming months and laying the foundation for long-term economic growth. The Council of Economic Advisors estimates that the recovery package will save or create 3.5 million jobs and that about 4 in 10 of these jobs will go to female workers.

In particular, the recovery package will help states avoid some cutbacks, which places some women’s jobs out of jeopardy since women make up the majority of state and local government workers. But most importantly, the recovery package will get the economy back on track, benefiting all kinds of families.

The recovery package alone, however, will not be enough to close the gap completely between what the economy is producing and what our economy has the capacity to produce. Millions will remain idle until the economy gets fully back on track. As we move forward through the budget process, Congress should keep this in mind and continue to focus on programs that can stimulate the economy in the short run. Along these lines, work-family balance policies are an excellent investment in our long-term economic growth and can also provide short-term economic stimulus.

Read the full testimony (CAP Action)

The positions of American Progress, and our policy experts, are independent, and the findings and conclusions presented are those of American Progress alone. A full list of supporters is available here. American Progress would like to acknowledge the many generous supporters who make our work possible.


Heather Boushey

Former Senior Fellow

Just released!

Interactive: Mapping access to abortion by congressional district

Click here