Monthly Archives: October 2011

Paid Sick Leave Gaining Momentum

On October 21, the Center for American Progress hosted an event co-sponsored by Half in Ten and the National Partnership for Woman & Families focused on expanding paid sick days coverage.

The Future of Children’s Work and Family volume, which was distributed to attendees at the event, recommends that a minimal amount of paid sick leave be provided to workers. The status quo, whereby the lowest-paid workers are least likely to have paid sick leave or other leave that enables them to take care of family responsibilities, forces working parents to choose between not taking care of their family or losing their wages (or losing their job altogether).

This past spring, Connecticut passed S.B. 913, the Paid Sick Leave bill, which made the state the country’s first to pass a law requiring paid sick days for service employees. Although many salaried workers have paid sick days in their contract, the same does not apply to 80 percent of low-wage workers in Connecticut.

“This discussion is about hourly workers at the lower end of the scale who are the most vulnerable,” said Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy.

Panelists argued that the law promotes increases in health, cuts business costs by reducing risks associated with employees coming to work while sick, garners bi-partisan support, and is not abused by employees.

For more information on the event at the Center for American Progress go to:

To read the Future of Children’s Work and Family volume and policy brief go to:

Childhood Obesity

First Lady Michelle Obama has made reducing childhood obesity a priority and has instituted the Let’s Move program. “Let’s Move is about kids eating healthy and moving and staying active, so you all are ready for life and for all the challenges that you’re going to face,” she said in the Let’s Move Blog, which reported the First Lady’s October 12th South Lawn event aimed at breaking the Guinness Book of World Record for the most people doing jumping jacks in a 24-hour period.

Childhood obesity continues to be a serious problem in the United States. Between 1971 and 1974, just 5 percent of all children were considered obese. The percentage of obese children doubled by 1994 and tripled by 2002 according to Future of Children authors, Patricia Anderson and Kristin Butcher’s calculations from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys.

“Logically enough, increasing childhood obesity is related to increasing adult obesity. Obese children are much more likely than normal weight children to become obese adults. Obesity even in very young children is correlated with higher rates of obesity in adulthood. A study from the late 1990s shows that 52 percent of children who are obese between the ages of three and six are obese at age twenty-five as against only 12 percent of normal and underweight three- to six-year-old children.” (Future of Children: Childhood Obesity)

Theories about what caused the obesity epidemic in the US abound. Some of the factors include: increased television and computer/video game usage, increasing use of fast-food restaurants, marketing of sugary and fat-laden foods to children, schools that offer junk food and soda to children, scaled back physical education classes and recess, and working parents who are unable to find the time or energy to cook a nutritious meal or supervise outdoor playtime. There has also been an exodus of grocery stores from urban shopping centers. This makes affordable fresh fruits and vegetables scarce.

But why should we care about childhood obesity? Shouldn’t we look beyond the physical and love children as they are? While the causes of childhood obesity can be debated by many, the consequences cannot. Obesity causes many health problems: heart disease, high blood pressure, hardening of the arteries, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, high cholesterol, asthma, sleep disorder, liver disease, orthopedic complications and mental health problems, just to name a few. “The possibility has even been raised that given the increasing prevalence of severe childhood obesity, children today may live less healthy and shorter lives than their parents.” (Future of Children: Childhood Obesity)

Reducing obesity requires changes in behaviors surrounding eating and physical activity. Children don’t control their environments and have difficulty making healthy choices around food. There is a clear rationale for modifying children’s environments to make it easier for them to be physically active and to make healthful food choices, thus reducing their chances of becoming obese.

On Thursday, October 20th, news sources across the country reported new research by Future of Children author and University of Chicago professor Jens Ludwig, which found that “low-income women with children who move from high-poverty to lower-poverty neighborhoods experience notable long-term improvements in some aspects of their health, namely reductions in diabetes and extreme obesity.” The Future of Children journal on “Childhood Obesity,” addresses several broad domains of children’s environments–the market place, the built environment, schools, child care providers, and homes–that might be modified to reduce obesity.

The Future of Children: Childhood Obesity can be read free of charge on our website.

The Child Support Connection: Giving Children a Brighter Future

Scholars, service providers, and city government officials filed into CUNY Graduate Center yesterday to take part in a discussion on the wellbeing of children and families in New York City, co-sponsored by the Future of Children, the New York City Office of Child Support Enforcement, and CUNY.

“The heart of the community is the family. We at the Office of Child Support Enforcement [OCSE] are about work and we are about families,” said Federal Commissioner for the Office of Child Support Enforcement Vicki Turetsky in her opening remarks. Child support is not only an important anti-poverty strategy for children but has also been positively associated with other important child outcomes, like academic achievement.

Executive Deputy Commissioner of NYC’s Human Resources Administration Frances Pardus-Abbadessa explained that automated child support collection is working effectively for the majority of parents. However, traditional enforcement tools have been less effective for the approximately 25 percent of parents who owe child support, but have limited ability to pay. Approximately 70 percent of unpaid child support debt is owed by parents earning no or low-reported income.

Columbia University’s Irwin Garfinkel and Rutgers University’s Lenna Nepomnyaschy, working with data from Princeton’s Fragile Families study, showed that the vast majority of parents want to be engaged and financially supportive in their child’s life at his or her birth. But that involvement declines over time, which is when child support plays an increasingly important role.

How can systems better connect with the families and parents that are the most difficult to reach?

The group divided into three breakout sessions: one focused on family wellbeing, another focused on incarceration, and a third focused on employment.

The groups returned with a few suggestions:

–Find ways to connect parents to employment. Incentivize the placement of formerly incarcerated parents for employers and workforce development agencies and continue policies and programs that cap child support debt for incarcerated parents.

–Increase efforts to involve fathers in their children’s lives from birth, and build OCSE mediation programs to encourage better coparenting relationships. As keynote speaker Princeton’s Hillard Pouncy suggested, engaged fathers will be more likely to contribute financially.

–Continue finding ways to improve the image of the child support system through collaborations with workforce agencies, fatherhood programs, domestic violence coalitions, mediation and parenting services, and social service organizations.

Additional and more specific recommendations were offered and discussed by a panel including Larry Mead of New York University, Commissioner of the NYC Human Resources Administration Robert Doar, Vicki Turetsky, and the Center for Court Innovation’s Liberty Aldrich. Breakout session speakers included Maureen Waller of Columbia University, James McHale of the University of South Florida, Petersburg, Mark Kleiman of Community Mediation Services, George T. McDonald of the Doe Fund, Kathleen Coughlin from NYC’s Department of Probation, Amanda Geller of Columbia University, Virginia Cruickshank of F.E.G.S., Elaine Sorenson from The Urban Institute and James Riccio of MDRC.

For more information on this topic, visit the Future of Children’s Fragile Families volume, specifically the chapter by Robert Lerman on Capabilities and Contributions of Unwed Fathers.

The Government’s Role in Work-Family Balance

Work-family policy is not a new concept in the U.S., but it has hardly kept up with the changing needs of the worker and the family as noted in the Future of Children’s recent volume, Work and Family. The safeguards that are currently in place for the American worker were created at a time when mothers were typically at home to care for children, aging or ill family members, and do the household chores. Today, the vast majority of families do not have a stay at home parent but still have child care, and increasingly, elder care responsibilities.

In 1935, the government addressed the need for income support when workers could not be at work with the Social Security Act, which established Old Age and Survivors Insurance, unemployment insurance, and income assistance to mothers and children. This law was built on the dynamic that men were the bread winners and women, the caregivers. But that leaves many gaps for today’s families where both women and men are breadwinners and caregivers alike. Policy makers have since tried to fill many of these gaps, but inequalities that affect caregivers remain, perhaps most notably the failure of the law to cover caregiving leave. Today there are only two states, California and New Jersey, that provide state-level social insurance to workers for family leave.

In 1938 Congress enacted the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). FLSA regulated the nation’s minimum wage and hours worked, particularly hours worked by women and children. This act was not designed to address work-family conflict but in limiting the hours worked, it did reserve time for workers to care for families. However, the act was based on the assumption that workers were employed full time – in that era, commonly ten to twelve hours each day – and did not deal with, or encourage, workplace flexibility.

Times have changed greatly since these safeguards from the 1930’s were enacted, and policies need to be updated to reflect the modern workforce. Work-family policies, that fit our time, involve initiatives that give caregivers flex and leave options that allow them the flexibility to meet their family needs without compromising their productivity. For professional workers and those subject to mandatory overtime, the problem is most often too much work; for low-wage workers it is more often too few hours and unpredictable schedules.

A growing body of empirical research suggests that workplace flexibility policies may enhance productivity by improving retention and reducing turnover. In 2010, the Council of Economic Advisers reviewed evidence on the economic value of adopting workplace flexibility and concluded that the “costs to firms of adopting these kinds of management practices can also be outweighed by reduced absenteeism, lower turnover, healthier workers, and increased productivity.” Additional research is needed to further substantiate these findings, but these initial claims are promising.

Given this, how do we update our nation’s work-family policies to reflect the flexibility needs of our changing workforce?

Although there are no easy solutions to the work-family challenge, the evidence presented in our Work and Family volume provides useful insights into the types of work-family conflicts American employees are experiencing, as well as the types of employer, governmental, and community policies that might most effectively address them. For example, the costs of sick day benefits are minimal and can be borne by individual employers, who also stand to reap gains from not having workers with contagious diseases show up at work, make their colleagues ill, and reduce overall firm productivity. Paid sick days are now guaranteed by law in several U.S. localities including San Francisco, the District of Columbia, and Milwaukee, and are gaining momentum, even despite the current economic recession. In the past few months, paid sick days were enacted into law in the state of Connecticut, in the city of Seattle, and passed in the city of Philadelphia (although not yet signed by the mayor).

For more detailed information about local and state initiatives that have updated policies to ease work-family tensions and employers that have voluntarily implemented workplace flexibility initiatives, go to our Work and Family volume and policy brief.

This blog draws from Heather Boushey’s article in the Future of Children journal, “The Role of the Government in Work-Family Conflict.”

Workplace Flexibility: The Next Anti-Poverty Strategy

In conjunction with National Work and Family month, on Wednesday, October 5, Princeton-Brookings released a new volume of the Future of Children entitled Work and Family.

“The dilemma that we face is that parents act as the hub of service delivery for their children and elderly relatives. They provide direct care themselves, and they also coordinate other care that their family members receive… But most parents and most elder caregivers are also employed, and that leads to work-family conflict,” opened issue editor Jane Waldfogel of Columbia University at the Brookings Institution event.

Three demographic changes have increased work-family conflicts for both mothers and fathers: mothers’ continued entry into the workforce, high divorce rates, and the growing elderly population. And unlike other nations with advanced economies, the U.S. has very modest government policies requiring employers to give their workers benefits such as paid family leave and child care. The United States federal government provides only unpaid leave – and only for some parents – to care for newborns or sick family members and most parents do not qualify for government child care programs.

Work and Family shows that providing short to moderate periods of paid parental leave (from three to twelve months) for all workers, is likely to have positive benefits for child and family wellbeing, and is unlikely to have negative repercussions in the labor market. It also explains the ways that increasing access to high-quality early childhood education and care could ease work-family conflicts and promote sizable gains in school readiness for disadvantaged children.

But, given the difficult state of the American economy and the large, growing federal deficit, what can we realistically expect from federal policy makers in this area?

Rather than focus on broad policy change, discussions at the Brookings Institution event focused on the role that state and local governments, as well as employers, might play in helping families deal with the demands of work, namely, by promoting workplace flexibility.

“Allowing employees more control over their hours and more flexibility to adjust hours or work location when family demands arise can lead to increased employee productivity, satisfaction, and retention. Far from representing a cost to employers, such policies, if well designed to take into account the needs of both employers and employees, can yield benefits,” notes Work and Family, a finding which was echoed at Brookings by Ernst & Young’s Flexibility Strategy Leader Maryella Gockel and volume author and Co-Founder and President of the Families and Work Institute Ellen Galinsky.

Unfortunately, as Galinsky, Waldfogel, and Brookings’ Ron Haskins all mentioned, low-income employees, who often have the greatest need for workplace flexibility, generally have the least access to it.

Heather Boushey, volume author and Senior Economist at the Center for American Progress, took this point further, suggesting that workplace flexibility is the ‘next step’ in anti-poverty policy.

“We did all that work on welfare reform in the 1990’s,” said Boushey, “that encouraged low income individuals, especially women, to work… and so [workplace flexibility] must be the next step, right? We want that single Mom in the workplace, but we have to make sure that she can stay in the workplace, that she can hold on to her job while taking care of her children.” Employer flexibility policies that allow parents flexible time off when children are sick, paid sick leave when parents themselves are sick, and leave arrangements for the birth of a child can help low-income individuals maintain their income, and hopefully head off poverty.

Employers can enact such policies voluntarily and relatively quickly. The Families and Work Institute provides guidelines that can help guide employers as they implement workplace flexibility:

And there is also a role for local and state policy makers to play. Over the past few months, even in the depths of this recession, paid sick days were enacted into law in the state of Connecticut, in the city of Seattle, and passed in the city of Philadelphia (although not yet signed by the mayor).

For more information on the volume, go to: Click here for a full transcript of the Brookings Institution event.

Workplace Flexibility: A Solution for a Time-Starved Nation?

As indicated in the new Work and Family volume of Future of Children, American society’s composition and family roles have changed dramatically since Leave It to Beaver, with the majority of American women employed outside the home, an explosion of single-parent families, and older Americans increasingly needing care from younger relatives. These changes greatly complicate the challenges of meeting family responsibilities while holding down a job, note journal editors Sara McLanahan of Princeton, Jane Waldfogel of Columbia, and Brookings senior fellow Ron Haskins.

As demographics have changed, so have workplaces, which may have negative consequences for children and families. Today, one out of five employed Americans works varying hours or works outside the standard hours of 8 to 4 more than half the time. Parents who work nonstandard hours spend less time with each other and with their children. Moreover, mothers’ nonstandard hours are linked to lower cognitive scores among preschoolers.

Increasing workplace flexibility – the availability of work schedules that allow for balance between family and work – is one logical solution that employers can voluntarily implement to ease work-family tensions. Although some research has suggested that this may still impact parents’ career growth, evidence of the benefits continues to mount. Researchers find that greater access to flexibility is linked to higher job satisfaction, engagement, and employee health. One example underscored by Work and Family is a Houston, Texas community effort. Through the promotion of workplace flexibility, the city reduced traffic congestion, lessened pollution, and helped employers increase productivity.

The best workers may be attracted to family-friendly workplaces, and often that provides an incentive for change. For example, The White House and National Science Foundation (NSF) recently announced the “NSF Career-Life Balance Initiative,” a ten-year plan to support American scientists and their families. New workplace flexibility policies will allow researchers to postpone or suspend grants for up to one year for parental leave, childbirth, and adoption. The new policies will make it easier for women to pursue careers in engineering and science. NSF plans to support research on workplace flexibility policies and calls on other research institutes and universities to adopt similar policies.