By Lauren Moore on October 26, 2011 10:41 PM
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).
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
discussion is about hourly workers at the lower end of the scale who are the
most vulnerable," said Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy.
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.
By Regina M. Leidy on October 25, 2011 1:06 PM
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
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.
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.
By Wade C. Jacobsen on October 21, 2011 3:44 PM
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
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
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
--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
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 ofProbation, 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'sFragile
Families volume, specifically the chapter by Robert Lerman on Capabilities
and Contributions of Unwed Fathers.
By Regina M. Leidy on October 13, 2011 1:54 PM
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 whenmothers 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.
By Lauren Moore on October 11, 2011 11:19 AM
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
"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
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.
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
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
"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.
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).
By Wade C. Jacobsen on October 4, 2011 2:37 PM
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
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.