Working parents need help

86480117.jpgWorking parents have been ignored by lawmakers for quite some time.  For two-parent households it is now more common for both parents rather than just one to work outside the home. Nearly half of all American mothers work full time, a full 30 percent increase since the Reagan administration, and more than 70 percent of mothers with young children are working outside the home.  

Our policies have not kept pace with this reality. This neglect poses tremendous challenges for families who are operating under workplace rules devised with Ozzie and Harriet in mind. Thankfully, it seems that politicians are finally starting to take notice.

One of the largest challenges working parents face is finding quality, affordable day care for their children. While it may seem that options abound, a 2007 survey found that only 10 percent of daycare operations provide high-quality care, with the rest of care ranking either fair or poor. The problem of low-quality care is particularly acute for low-income children who may already be struggling with the adverse effects of parents who work low-wage, unstable jobs. 

While low-income children are at particular risk, families at all income levels struggle to find affordable, accessible, high-quality care for their kids. There are many studies that suggest high-quality early childhood education programs can have a variety of positive outcomes later in life, including better school performance, better odds of attending and graduating from college, lower chances of smoking, using drugs, depending on welfare, or becoming teen parents.

But even if parents are able to secure quality care for the children, what happens if one, or both, of the wage-earning parents become too ill to work? Even if it’s a just a temporary, short-term illness, missing work for one or two days could cost a parent a much-needed job.

During the first-ever White House Summit on Working Families, President Obama made a call to change this. He pointed out that the United States is one of just three developed nations that don’t guarantee some form of paid maternity leave, which is the most basic form of paid leave, never mind more robust protections like paid sick leave. The President called on states to pass more progressive policies aimed to addressing this problem, and also called on Congress to address the problem on a national level.

Of course, one of the most effective ways to help working families, particularly low-income families and single mothers, is to increase the minimum wage. With women representing nearly two-thirds of minimum wage workers, a woman working full time, year round at the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour earns just $14,500, which is more than $4,000 below the poverty line for a family of three. Raising the minimum wage from its current level to $10.10 would represent a significant and important improvement in the lives many working families throughout our state and country.

Half of both working mothers and working fathers say that it is difficult to balance work and family needs. This need not be the case. With a few smart and targeted changes in the way we think about our relationship between work and family, we can bring our workplace policies out of the 1950's and squarely into the 21st century.