Monday, May 14, 2012

Policy for Families Matter

I usually don’t go all political in my blog, but a recent report on public policy vis-à-vis  the needs of working families (and this is a woman’s leadership issue) threw me into high gear.   In a politically charged year when there is so much rhetoric given to “family values,” (and women’s issues) we need a closer look at what kind of values we’re talking about.  I’m tired of politicians giving lip-service to “family values” and then when it comes to doing the heavy lifting they are as scarce as an Easter egg in July.

A new report, Expecting Better: A State-by-State Analysis of Laws That Help New Parents, issued by the National Partnership for Women and Families concludes that there have been too few advances in federal and state employment laws in bringing public policy in line with the needs of the 21st century family in the United States. The United States is in striking contrast to 178 nations that guarantee paid work leave for new mothers and 54 nations that guarantee paid work leave for new fathers.

So what is the big deal? The big deal is how, as a society, we should walk our talk about family values and ensure that our public policy gives a hand-up to families.  The big deal is that by giving families a “hand up,” research shows that there are tremendous benefits for both families and businesses…..families gain economic security and better health and businesses boost their bottom lines. 

With women, as the report states, being the primary or co-breadwinners in nearly two-thirds of families, loss of income during pregnancy or parental leave has significant consequences for the family.  The report cites that only “38 percent of workers have access to employer-provided short-term disability insurance, and only about one-tenth of the workforce has access to employer-provided paid family leave to care for a new child.”  And those families at the margins are hit the hardest.  “Workers in low-paying jobs who have the greatest need for both job protection and wage replacement during leave from work are far less likely to have access to either of these employer-provided benefits.”

And this is a women’s leadership issue.  Another recent report, Invest in America—Invest in Woman, a Report of the Majority Staff of the Joint Economic Committee of the United State Senate, cites  out-of-date social supports for working families, inflexible work arrangements and undervalued early care as major reasons for holding women back in reaching middle and senior management positions.

So what is wrong with this picture in a society that supposedly holds that the family is the essential ethical and moral unit of society,?  Where politicians can't stop gushing that they support women and families?   Where, in this latest report, over 60% of the States were given a grade of  “D” or “F” for supporting working families?  Perhaps a “hand-up” to help real children, mothers, and fathers living in 21st century families isn’t our vision of  “family values”  and, in the end,  it’s all rhetoric after all.

Expecting Better: A State-by-State Analysis of Laws That Help New Parents available at