“Family-friendly” work policies

January 15, 2005 | 17 comments
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The Proclamation on the Family called on governments and decision-makers (which in a democracy includes us) to “promote those measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society.” What those measures are has prompted some debate.

Nick Gilbert suggests (with graphs!) that “family-friendly” policies like extended Family medical leave, subsidized day care, and so forth, are really “market friendly” policies. That is, they subsidize the transition of women to the workforce at the expense single income families. Read the whole thing.

17 Responses to “Family-friendly” work policies

  1. Jonathan Green on January 15, 2005 at 2:52 pm

    For our single-income family, a couple of wishes come to mind.

    I wish I had more job security. Job security would help us be able to better plan for the future and reduce a good amount of stress in our lives.
    I wish our access to decent healthcare didn’t depend on whether our income is momentarily above or below a given line. When we’re above, we can’t afford to get sick; when we’re below, it’s a real chore to find a doctor in our area who will talk to us.
    I wish there were more free- and low-cost programs and activities for children in our area, so that taking our kids to the park didn’t involve stark financial tradeoffs at the family budget level, and so that going to some of the kid attractions downtown could be indulged in more frequently.
    I wish we had a handy source of high-quality, low-cost child care. My wife needs a break some times, and professional mobility breaks down the extended family network and slows down the creation of a social network that might provide the equivalent. Sometimes a mother, no matter how dedicated to her children, needs a few hours to herself, even or especially when the family is new in town.
    I wish we had better public transportation, so that owning one car did not require my wife to taxi everyone about, including me.
    I wish our culture accepted the 40-hour workweek: that is, that everyone would accept that fathers and mothers and everyone else could do everything they could reasonably be expected to do in about 40 hours rather than 80 or 90, even doctors and lawyers, and that the rest of time time should be spent with friends, family, the chess club, whatever.

    Please, queue up the economists to tell me why all these things that I want for my family are bad ideas. I am a simple Germanic medievalist; what do I know? I didn’t even have time to read the fine article Adam linked to, and now I have been asked to carry groceries in from the car.

  2. Kristine on January 15, 2005 at 9:22 pm

    Adam, I think the really interesting bit of that article is the last paragraph or so, where Gilbert notes that most work-family policy discussion is based on the model of the male worker, who works full-time with no time off. The blindingly obvious (to me, anyway) thing that all of these kinds of articles miss is that WOMEN NEED PART-TIME WORK!! And not part-time folding jeans at The Gap. It seems criminally stupid to me that corporations cannot figure out ways to use skilled workers for 25-30 hrs./week. Most of the women in those fueling-the-flames-of-the-Mommy-wars-feature-articles who are leaving their jobs to stay home with their kids are very sad about giving up their careers, but just can’t work 50-60 hrs. a week and make their families work. I guarantee you that if companies created meaningful 20-30 hr./week positions, they would be swarmed with talented women who would be willing to work with lower salaries and fewer benefits than full-time workers, but would welcome the opportunity to continue the careers for which they were trained and which they enjoy.

  3. Matt Evans on January 15, 2005 at 11:05 pm

    Jonathan,

    Those are all great ideas. I want them too. And I want deliciously decadent foods and desserts that have zero calories and enhance my cardiovascular health. And I want to live steps from a white sandy tropical beach with a gorgeous view overlooking Glacier National Park . . .

    I’m no economist, but I would point out that you and I live better than 99.9% of the people in the history of the world, so buck up, our glasses are 90% full. : )

    Kristine,

    Frank presumably has a more precise answer, but I think it’s not the case that part-time work is paid less as much as it is that full-time work is paid more. By that seeming inanity I mean that companies requiring expensive and exclusive skills pay a premium for the flexibility of being able to have their salaried workers to put in 80+ hours, and weekends, when necessary.

  4. lyle on January 15, 2005 at 11:54 pm

    I neanderthal I think “affordable” child care is the worst thing that could happen to society. Career mobility is more important than staying close to your fam? and if you chose to move away from your fam support network…you want the government to subsidize your choice?

  5. Brandon on January 16, 2005 at 12:17 am

    I don’t see a problem with women (or men) working to the extent that it doesn’t hurt the family. I also think that there need to be realistic considerations of the tradeoffs that working often creates. Maybe it’s best to have Mom at home at 3 PM, but what if that means no college for the kids? After all, no college for the kids means that lots of future kids are much more likely to not have Mom home at 3, since the decision is no longer between paying for college and not paying for college and is more focused on paying rent or not paying rent. “Family friendly” policies might include the things that Gilbert is opposed to, simply because they’re not being compared to reality. The alternative is not that moms don’t work, but that moms work for less and with less benefits. I agree that there are a few mothers that are likely to work with benefits when they would not have otherwise, but I would also defer to some of their judgment in evaluating what is better for the family situation that they happen to be in.

    Also, given the number of families that break up over economic concerns, I think a discussion of the legitimacy of trading family time for disposable income is unfortunately needed.

  6. Kristine on January 16, 2005 at 8:22 am

    Matt, I understand why companies want employees with no human needs outside of work, and even that they’ll pay a premium for that. Frank has given me the detailed version of that on another thread. I just think being that driven by next quarter’s profits and the overriding goal of wringing every last drop of productivity out of every worker is shortsighted of them. My husband has lost three really good underwriters in the last couple of years because the company wouldn’t move enough on flextime, letting them telecommute a couple of days, or let them work a shortened workweek. That’s just dumb–they lost three people in whom they’d invested 10 or 15 years of training, and had to hire less experienced underwriters who could have their bodies in the right chair for the right number of hours.

    Part of what’s great about being human is that we don’t have to always be dictated to by balance sheets and bottom lines–we can think about what makes society worth living in and ask government, corporations, and individuals to assume responsibility for making that society. I think that means telling corporations that they should get over the ideal of the young male, totally unencumbered by family or personal responsibilities as their model employee.

  7. lyle on January 16, 2005 at 9:13 am

    Yeah…I get to agree with Kristine over corporate stupidity & inflexibility re: hours. :)

    Brandon:
    Maybe it’s best to have Mom at home at 3 PM, but what if that means no college for the kids?

    Lyle:
    How does a mother working outside the home have _any_ relation to the kids getting a college education? Maybe you infer that kids _will not_ get to college with their parents footing the bill. That probably comes as a surprise to me & most college students (my guess) who don’t get jack from their parents for college, nor would want to. I never liked getting presents from my grandma cuz she was poor & on social security. I wouldn’t have wanted cash from my parents & I certainly wouldn’t want to force my mom to work so they would have the economic means to pay for _my_ education.

  8. Kristine on January 16, 2005 at 9:30 am

    Well, lyle, even though you didn’t thank me, you’re welcome for my tax and tithing dollars that subsidized your education! *Somebody* has to pay for it, and most 18-25-year-olds just can’t come close to earning enough to pay for their own schooling. It might be your parents, or it might be somebody else’s, but the fact is that education is going to be paid for by people with greater earning power than students’.

  9. lyle on January 16, 2005 at 12:27 pm

    Actually Kristine, I paid for my own education…and I have the student loans & W-2s from jobs during college to prove it. So, that _somebody_ is me. Your tax dollars have little to do with it (unless you are trying to take the credit for student loan programs via your % of the national budget). Your tithing dollars do have some impact, because I did go to BYU. However, if BYU was less or non-subsidized, that would just increase the size of my loans.

    If I can pay for my own education (B.A., M.A., J.D.), then anyone can. [if they are willing to join the military of course... :) ]

  10. Julie in Austin on January 16, 2005 at 12:31 pm

    lyle–

    you are being pretty short-sighted here. tuition is a small fraction of the cost of an education; it is ‘pre-subsidized’, if that is a word, by donors, alums, the university’s endowment, etc., etc.

  11. lyle on January 16, 2005 at 12:50 pm

    Julie: There are lots of stuff that goes into the cost of higher education. However, that isn’t the point in this discussion. This isn’t about any (misplaced) pride I have in financing my own education.

    It is about whether or not “Mom” should get a job so that the kids get a college education. I stated that such a proposition is silly & no such need exists.

    Thus, pre-subsidization doesn’t have much to do with whether Mom/Parents should finance a college education for their kids…which seems to be the common assumption in the astronomical “scare” figures cited when talking about the “cost” of having a kid. IMO couples contemplating starting a “family” need not worry about how _they_ are going to pay for their kids college education.

  12. Clark on January 16, 2005 at 2:33 pm

    “And I want to live steps from a white sandy tropical beach with a gorgeous view overlooking Glacier National Park . . .”

    Well I had half of that…

  13. Ivan Wolfe on January 16, 2005 at 2:37 pm

    I think parents do their kids a disservice when they pay for their college education.

    I worked 20+ hours a week as an undergrad and squeaked by on scholarships and loans. I don’t see why we shouldn’t expect that of most (if not all undergrads). My parents were too poor to pay for college for me. They both went to college, doing the same thing I did (my mom remembers that when she left for college, her parents gave her five bucks and said “good luck” – her dad was a poor miner). I don’t see why college attendence is considered some sort of right that kids must have (especially at the expense of the parents).

    But I’m hoplessly reactionary in my views, I supposse.

  14. Trenden on January 16, 2005 at 6:59 pm

    My aunt works for the LDS church. For the last few years her husband has been slowly dying from MS and she was their sole source of income. Luckily she’s well educated as a software engineer and has a good income. This last summer her husband finally died leaving here with two small children. One point of frustration for her is the church’s strict no-telecommuting policy. When her children are sick the policy won’t allow her to work from home on those days even though she could program code from home just as easily as she could from her work cubicle. I’ve questioned why the church would have such an un-family-friendly work policy.

  15. Matt Evans on January 16, 2005 at 11:47 pm

    Kristine, I hope you’re right that companies are currently under-valueing talented employees who insist on greater flexibility. If so, then there’s an opportunity to capitalize on the market flaw for businesses that efficiently harness those talents. My intuition, however, is that the current market price for part-time labor accurately discounts their wage due to inherent inefficiencies.

    As for what society should demand of business, if part-time employees are indeed disproportionately more expensive, every possible solution society could conceive would only require that the class of full-time employees subsidize the class of part-time employees. And those classes are too broad to sustain blanket moral arguments that full-timers should foot bills of part-timers.

  16. lyle on January 16, 2005 at 11:51 pm

    Matt: to spell out your last paragraph…You mean if the government passed a law requiring all employees, part or full time, to be provided the same class of benefits, then the full-time would be subsidizing the part-time?

    caveat: my agreement was only insofar as corporations focus on making folks work “more than” 40 hours/week & require this rather than a “full time” worker. so, it is still an agreement, albeit smaller in scope, :)

  17. Matt Evans on January 17, 2005 at 12:33 am

    Lyle, Yes, if part-time employees are in fact more expensive, but society requires that part-time workers receive the same wages as full-timers (pro rata), this can accomplished only by transfering wealth from full-timers to part-timers.

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