Today’s Washington Post has an interesting article on moms entering the workforce – or staying in the workforce – during the last two years. It notes the trends during the recent recession that many experts have been writing about: women are either re-entering the workforce, moving from part to full time jobs or becoming their family’s breadwinner. There are two things that are noteworthy about this: (1) the recession may have sped up changes in family structure that had been gradually happening over the last two decades; and (2) balancing work and caregiving are increasingly important to the economic well-being of middle class families, as more families become reliant on two incomes to get ahead. Predictably, parents in the Post article had different reactions to returning to or staying at work – but all acknowledged they would continue the juggling act while it made financial sense for their families. There is little evidence the trends exacerbated by the recession will significantly change as the economy continues its recovery.
On this blog we’ve been writing a lot about the proposals the Middle Class Task Force has already put forward to help families pay for child care and to expand help for families caring for elders or a person with a disability. These proposals are a step in the right direction for working parents, but more – such as more and better child care options, paid leave and greater flexibility – can be done to adapt our workplaces to the transformation that is occurring for families. These policies are often lumped together under the misnomer "work family balance." As most parents (working or not) in our 24/7 economy will tell you, true balance is illusory amidst all the teetering and juggling that gets you through the day. We can’t create more hours in the day, but we can create more options for parents. And while that may not bring balance – it can help mitigate stress, uncertainty, and unpredictability. As a first step we can learn strategies and practices from corporations that have already taken innovative steps and reaped rewards in efficiency and retention for doing so. The Task Force plans to continue to work on these issues in the coming months.
Terrell McSweeny is Domestic Policy Advisor to the Vice President