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An Economy That Puts Families First: Expanding the Social Contract to Include Family Care

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In two-thirds of families with children, both parents work. A typical child today is just as likely to live in a family with a working mother as with a working father. These facts herald a startling change that has occurred over a remarkably short period of human history--in only a few decades we have experienced a revolution in how we raise our children. Yet it is a revolution with which our government and public policies have not kept pace.

Today's typical family does not have an "extra" adult to deal with these emergencies, to stay home with a sick child or take a child to the doctor. Nor does it have an "extra" adult that can go into the labor force to maintain a family's income when the primary earner cannot work; virtually all adults are already working. Between 1970 and 2000, the typical two-parent family increased their annual work schedules by 500 hours (Bernstein and Kornbluh 2005). These are the issues parents face every day, and parents are not the only ones with family care responsibilities. Many workers care for elderly parents or other family members on a regular or occasional basis, and all workers must take care of their own health needs.

Current public policies fail to protect our workers and families in these ordinary life circumstances. We all know that workers must deal with these needs, but we rarely think consciously of how that is accomplished; we simply take it for granted. Some workers, especially those in professional and managerial jobs, take advantage of employer accommodations, often without fully realizing that paid sick days and the ability to arrive late, go home early, or work at home are simply not available to all workers in the United States.