A Woman’s Nation Requires Work-Life Balance

October 19, 2009

In the early 1960s, Bob Dylan had a lot of questions on his mind, questions that didn’t seem to have any answers. He wanted to know how many roads a man must walk down, before he can be called a man. He wondered how many times cannon balls must fly, before they’re forever banned. And he asked about how many years some people could exist, before they’re allowed to be free.

So he wrote down all these questions, put them to music … and an anthem was born.

Questions about war, of course, haven’t gone away. But today, we also face questions here at home. How do we ask people to stay home from work when they feel sick, if they risk losing their jobs because their employers don’t grant them sick days? How can a mother or father care for a newborn child when paid family leave is a pipe dream? How can Americans be secure in retirement if Social Security effectively penalizes them for taking time off from work to tend to an elderly parent?

In the “Family Friendly” chapter of A Woman’s Nation, the authors focus on the fact that America’s workplace policies and social insurance systems have not kept pace with demographic changes in our workforce. Whereas we have made substantial progress in supporting women’s entry into the formerly male-dominated workforce, our system of caregiving is still based on the traditional assumptions of a sole breadwinner (husband) and a sole caregiver (wife); a model that has become outdated over the past several decades. Changes to the traditional family structure — which include an increase in single-parent households, shared parenting/caregiver responsibilities among spouses, and a rise in dual-income families — have significant ramifications on how government and employers must help America’s workers balance the responsibilities of work and family.

As the report discusses, the past 50 years have seen substantial changes in the composition of the American workforce. Yet, despite the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and a patchwork of state laws and employer-based benefits, family and personal sick leave remain elusive to many working Americans, while the current Social Security system and retirement structures penalizes those who take time from their regular employment to care for their families.

Unique solutions are necessary to meet the demands of families and the obligations of work while improving family economic security. AAUW believes we must expand the Family and Medical Leave Act so that the leave is paid and more Americans can access it. All workers in this country need — and deserve — paid sick days to properly care for themselves and their families. Moreover, Social Security should be strengthened so that workers who have to take time off for family and medical reasons are not penalized once they reach retirement for doing so. You can read all our work-life balance recommendations here.

The answers to these questions aren’t blowin’ in the wind; they’re staring us right in the face. And the time to act is now.

By:   |   October 19, 2009

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