Dave Anderson, Tribune News Service
The work-family balance topic is one of the dominant issues in American society, but you would not know this based upon the amount of attention it gets compared with immigration, guns, abortion, national defense, Social Security and Medicare, transportation, climate change and taxes.
This is yet another sign of our dysfunctional democracy. Neither the Democrats nor the Republicans have elevated work-family balance to the pedestal where it belongs, although the Democrats have certainly done more to get it there. The topic is actually a set of interrelated issues, notably paid parental leave, child-care, women’s rights and economic opportunities, preschool policies, a tax credit for a stay-at-home parent, and intergenerational relations between grandparents, their grandchildren and their grandchildren’s parents.
Indeed, the work-family balance topic concerns nothing less than 18 years of the life of parents, their children and their children’s grandparents, especially regarding how the parents, the federal government, state governments, and the business, nonprofit or education employers provide funding for parents to take care of their children when they are not in school. The work-family balance topic also concerns alcohol and drug abuse, crime and mental health although these policy areas cut across a number of overarching policy areas.
When you recognise the depth and breadth of the work-family balancing topic, it should immediately become clear that it should be a top tier issue of concern.
Advocates for family policies like paid parental leave tend to separate their advocacy from other dimensions of the overarching work-family balancing issue because they try to address one issue at a time. Because taking care of infants and toddlers is not regarded as a muscular national priority, advocates also struggle to get adequate attention for the issue. Moreover, these advocates do not want to hitch paid parental leave to what most politicians and most members of the media regard as a second or third tier issue, namely the larger concept of work-family balance.
After over 40 years of advocacy on Capitol Hill and no federal national paid parental leave policy for all families with newborns — The Family and Medical Leave Act provides 12 weeks of job protection for some workers but no wage replacements — it is also hard to say paid parental leave is a top tier policy issue since there has never been such a policy. Regarding child-care funding or federal tax credits there certainly are federal programs, including transfer payment programs and federal tax credits, for child care. Most of these, however, are in the $2,500 to $3,500 per child range (though higher during national crises like the COVID-19 crisis) which is at best a third of the cost parents face.
It is not hard to see why child-care advocates, be they feminist organizations like Mom’s Rising, the National Women’s Law Center and the National Organization of Women or children’s organizations like Save the Children and the Children’s Defense Fund, always have ambitious agendas. Although they have accomplished a great deal, there is so much more that could be achieved if the work-family balance problem was addressed with the care and respect it deserves. Advocates for major family policies would do well to spell out the absolutely massive nature of the work family-balancing issue so that US Representatives, US Senators and the president and his Cabinet frame decisions about the many policies that concern this issue appropriately. Unlike the abortion issue and the gun control issue, the family-work balance issue is not a wedge issue or a hot button issue that divides the public into blue and red camps.
The work-family balance issue is a set of issues about child-care, parental rights as well as needs to work for economic, cognitive and emotional reasons, employer needs and responsibilities to elicit maximum motivation from their employees, and the value for those parents who would benefit from a tax credit for stay-at-home parents rather than child-care funding when children are very young. If the work-family balance problem is conceptualised with all of its scope and complexity, there is a better chance that it will be resolved. Yet so long as it is compartmentalised into a potential separate twelve week paid parental leave programme and a separate federal tax credit for child-care expenses or benefits provided from employers, the overarching very complex work-family balance problem will never be resolved.
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