Encouraging Family-Friendly Workplace Policies

CAPAF’s Heather Boushey testifies before the House Committee on Education and Labor, Subcommittee on Workplace Protections. Read the full testimony (CAPAF).

For over a generation now, families have been struggling to figure how to balance work and 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.

The recession is exacerbating these challenges for families. In my comments today, I want to lay out how the recession is affecting families and how it makes the need for family-friendly workplace policies ever more urgent.

The recession—so far—is leading to higher unemployment among men than women: As of December 2008—which is the latest data available—men have lost four out of every five jobs shed since the recession began in December 2007. 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 come with health insurance.
  • The poor economy and lack of job creation means 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.
  • 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 the 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 a good employee with being a good caretaker.

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 even a few months ago. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was a down payment on creating jobs in the months to come 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, which benefits 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.

CAPAF’s Heather Boushey testifies before the House Committee on Education and Labor, Subcommittee on Workplace Protections. Read the full testimony (CAPAF).