Center for American Progress

RELEASE: Reflections on Four Decades of Fighting for Families
Press Release

RELEASE: Reflections on Four Decades of Fighting for Families

Washington, D.C. — Today the Center for American Progress released a new report based on interviews with more than three dozen veterans of the fight for family-friendly policies that address why, despite robust support for a national family policy agenda, there has been remarkably little progress made over the past several decades. “Lessons Learned: Reflections on Four Decades of Fighting for Families” distills hours of wide-ranging conversations down to the essence of what advocates can learn from the successes and failures of the battle for family-friendly policies. It raises urgent questions and presents a road map for how progressives can achieve future victories.

“This report is really so important, because we need the road map—like this report is—to make sure that we can make progress on issues that are important to women, to families, and to the work-life balance,” said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) at an event at the Center for American Progress Action Fund this week. “Working families have reached a critical mass in this country. We are no longer an anomaly. We are the norm.”

“The argument can no longer be made that family-friendly policy has no place in America,” said Judith Warner, author of the report and a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress. “Public policies promoting caretaking—through paid family leave, paid sick days, and high-quality public pre-K—already exist in some states and cities, and they are proving to be highly popular and successful. Public opinion stands firmly behind making such policy options available nationwide. They’re an investment in the future that benefits both families and the economy today.”

Over the course of the past half century, the American family has undergone cataclysmic change, due chiefly to the movement of women from the home to the paid workforce. And yet our society consistently fails to adapt to the heightened demands placed upon its families. It is in this context that the report asks:

  • Why, despite the persistent, pressing, and longstanding need for support for working families, hasn’t there been a strong public demand for policy change?
  • Why hasn’t the push for policies such as paid sick days or paid family and medical leave—measures which could benefit everyone at some point in their lives—attracted a dedicated constituency?
  • Why have families never been able to unite as a meaningful lobby?

The report finds that the lack of demand and a lack of awareness that there might even be something to demand, combined with the related lack of a lobbying constituency, have made it very difficult to mobilize public opinion, much less political will, on behalf of families and children. Warner argues that to move forward and change the national conversation about the struggles of working families in America, advocates must:

  • Counter the argument that work-family conflict is a purely private concern that individuals need to “work out” on their own.
  • Replace the belief that “This is just how it is” with the argument that “It doesn’t have to be this way.”
  • Contradict the conventional wisdom that family-friendly policies are bad for business with proof that they in fact boost growth.
  • Recognize that while work-family conflict is universal, how it plays out and how people talk about it varies in different communities—and develop messages that take those varied viewpoints into account.
  • Undertake an ambitious new body of research to find out what people want, what they feel would be most helpful in making their lives easier, and what words they use to talk about work-family issues. This effort should take the form of a national listening tour that would draw in a wide variety of different communities, including conservatives and people of faith.
  • Build a movement to develop a sense of urgency and excitement around these issues.
  • Make sure that work-family policy finds its place as part of a broader, inspiring, progressive agenda that seeks to help people meet all of their responsibilities and improve their lives.

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To speak with CAP experts, please contact Madeline Meth at [email protected] or 202.741.6277.