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U.S. Department of Labor Futurework
  Trends and Challenges for Work in the 21st Century
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The Time-Squeeze in American Families:
From Causes to Solutions

Marin Clarkberg
Cornell University

Fostering Change

The growing commitment to employment in American families does not simply reflect a growing taste for employment or an underlying desire for long hours on the job. Our analyses suggest there is a widespread preference for part-time work in working families today. Yet that preference for part-time work is rarely met. In new data just collected through the Cornell Employment and Family Careers Institute, working professionals—those exempted from the Fair Labor and Standards Act—who told us that they worked too much overwhelmingly pointed the finger at workplace constraints. Over two-thirds of our respondents indicated that the main reason that they work the hours that they do is because their job requires it and that long hours are defined into the kind of work they want to do. For example, one husband working 50 plus hours a week told us, “I won’t be taken seriously in a professional manner if I work less than the hours that I’m working now.” A women in a similar position says, “My boss wants me there at least that much… it wouldn’t go over well with my boss to work less… He would view me as a valued less.” Others face a starker reality, indicating that they work long hours simply “to be able to employed” at all. In contrast to this dominant theme of employer-based constraints, fewer than 1 in 5 of our respondents suggest that they work more than they would like to for financial reasons.

The lack of cultural and legal protections from required overtime for the large and growing pool of professionals results in enormous costs, both at the personal level, in terms of quality of life, and at the societal level, as overworked families struggle to outsource the care of their homes and children to others, sometimes with unsatisfactory results. It may be time to reconsider the goals and effects of the Fair Labor and Standards Act which has exempted many contemporary American families from its protections.

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