Creating a Family-Friendly Economy in Oregon

The sixth in a seven-part series by guest blogger Erin Barone for Family Forward Oregon, sharing insights from their action + discussion group The High Cost of Motherhood.

For the past several weeks I’ve been blogging here about some of the workplace policies, laws and social norms that work against mothers (and their families) in the United States (and yes, right here in Oregon). I’ve also highlighted examples of other places where families are more supported (like France and the U.S. military). Now it’s time to talk about some solutions for American families.

When we think about which solutions “we” need, it’s powerful that our desires as parents to both support and care for our children cross all kinds of social boundaries. No matter our age, our race, our religion, our income, our sexual orientation, our level of education or our political beliefs, most parents can agree on one thing: It takes time and financial security to raise children, and we want both. (Look at the results of a nationwide survey by the Center for Work-Life Policy/National Parenting Association. Scroll down to “What Will Parents Vote For”)

Let’s focus on the workplace
One key factor in how successful American families can be is the landscape of the American workplace which, on the whole, hasn’t adapted to the modern family. A typical family is now one where both parents work outside the home and where kids need at least some paid care before and after school and during the 4.5 months of school vacations (compared to the average 2 weeks parents have off work). We are also an aging population with an increasing life expectancy, which means parents may be caring for their children as well as their own parents.

So what are some ways we can create a more family-friendly economy? Here are a few we think would really help:

1. Workplaces could be more flexible. The majority of children live in a home where all adults in the household work. Employees and employers alike would benefit from flexible hours that allow families to share childcare duties, to pick up kids from school, to attend an assembly, volunteer in a classroom or to take an elderly parent to a doctor appointment. Allowing employees to work part-time (while keeping their level of pay and benefits) is another way to support families while keeping good employees in the workforce.
Here’s one great resource: The Custom Fit Workplace.

2. Workers could earn short- and long-term paid time off. Employees who are also caregivers need to have time off from work to care for a kid with a stomach bug (short-term leave) as well as time to care for a new baby or a seriously ill family member (long-term leave) without the risk of losing their job or their financial stability. Kids get sick. Babies are born. Offering paid leave leads to more economic security for families, which is cheaper for taxpayers, and people stay employed longer, which is good for employers.
Here’s one great resource: National Partnership for Women & Families

3. Childcare could be high-quality, affordable and accessible, and childcare workers could earn living wages and benefits. The benefits of quality, affordable childcare are well known and thoroughly researched. Early childhood education has been proven to benefit kids, giving them a solid base for success in school for years to come.

4. Caregivers wouldn’t be discriminated against in the workplace. Low-, middle-, and high-income mothers all can experience discrimination in the workplace, beginning with pregnancy. Fathers experience it too, when the workplace culture assumes that caring for the kids is the mother’s job. We need to change the culture of the American workplace from one that views family responsibilities as interferences to one that acknowledges and accepts that work-family balance is a reality and should be supported to benefit workers and employers alike.

Next Week’s Conversation:

Let’s get down to work, then, shall we? In our last session on Sunday, June 3, we’ll talk about what kind of action we can – and will! – take to make a difference soon, and how busy parents can fit that action into their lives. And yes, there are resources to help get you started. Here are just a few:

* From The Mother’s Movement Online: “Beyond Bumper Stickers: An introduction to working for change.”

* “Take Back Your Time”, edited by John de Graaf

* “The Maternal is Political: Women at the Intersection of Motherhood and Social Change”, edited by local mom Shari MacDonald Strong

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