Lack of flexibility at workplace, paid family leave and affordable childcare make things difficult for working parents in the U.S. It is time for implementing workplace policies that give all workers the best chance to succeed at work and at home.
President Obama deserves accolades for taking initiative to overhaul workplace policies that can help working couples juggle the demands of life and work.
The first White House summit on Working Families on June 23 brought together businesses, economists, labor leaders, policymakers, advocates and citizens for a national conversation on how a workplace policy can be created that will give modern American families the best chance to succeed.
Now, in 63 percent of U.S. families with children, both parents in the household work. 32 percent of families with children are single-parent families. And yet, the nation has not adapted to make it easier for working parents to balance their jobs with the economic and logistical difficulties of raising families.
The President signed a Presidential Memorandum asking every agency in the federal government to expand access to flexible work schedule.
“Parenting is the greatest joy in life, but it might be hard to appreciate the beauty of a toddler’s smile when you’ve been standing at a cash register for eight hours straight,” Obama said.
The US is one of the only three countries of the world (along with Papua New Guinea and Oman) where there is no guaranteed maternity leave for working mothers, according to United Nations.
Most developed countries require employers to provide some amount of paid maternity or paternity leave, paid family and sick leave. The U.S. lags behind other developed countries in all of these areas. In 1990, the U.S. had the sixth highest female labor participation rate among 22 of the world’s wealthiest countries. Today, the U.S. ranks 17th.
Most workers want flexibility — the ability to take a few hours off for a school play or to work from home when your kid is sick. But not enough of them have it even though studies show that flexibility makes workers happier and helps companies raise productivity, Obama said.
“Family leave, childcare, flexibility and a decent wage are basic needs. They should be the bottom line,” he said.
The President urged Congress to pass the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, because too many pregnant workers are forced to choose between their health and their job.
Speaking to Global Times, Werner Baer, Prof of Economics at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, said: “The nation’s policies for working parents must keep up with the reality of the 21th century American family.”
Veronica Cheng (Short Hills, NJ), a mother of two kids, told Global Times: “There should be paid family leave for working parents caring for a newborn child or for working sons and daughters caring for an ill parent or for working husbands and wives caring for a sick spouse.”
Global Times contacted D&B (Caldwell, NJ) HR dept, Harvard Work/Life program office and HR dept of Catholic University of America (Washington DC) for their views on the issue. Despite trying several times, they declined to make any comment.
Meanwhile, some businesses are realizing that family-friendly policies inspire workers to go the extra mile. JetBlue offers a flexible work-from-home plan for its customer-service representatives. Google has increased its paid parental leave to five months — and the rate of women leaving the company decreased by half.