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Trends and Challenges for Work in the 21st Century

futurework: Chapter 3 - Box 3.2 -The Work and Familiy Balancing Act

Even parents with a comfortable income may have difficulty coping with both job and family. For the working poor, these difficulties quickly multiply. First, they have less money for and less access to quality child care. Using family or neighbors for child care may be cheaper but may also be less reliable. Preoccupation with child care can impair productivity at work—and absence from work to cover for a no-show babysitter may lead an employer to view the parent as unreliable.

Second, the jobs the working poor hold are often less regular (fluctuating hours or overnight shifts) and have fewer, if any, benefits (such as sick pay or vacation). Irregular hours may increase childcare problems, and a lack of benefits means the need to care for sick children or disabled parents turns into a day with no pay—or even no job.

"Family friendly" policies for the working poor go beyond job flexibility to include:

  • higher wages through increases in the minimum wage,

  • access to jobs that do not disappear with every economic downturn or when the weather turns cold,

  • more preschool and summer-school programs for their children,

  • ducational and job training opportunities to help them get better-paying jobs,

  • childcare subsidies so they can afford safer, higher-quality child care,

  • better healthcare benefits to reduce the need for time off, and

  • access to transportation to increase access to jobs.

"[The working poor] take the jobs none of the rest of us want. They spend hours on their feet doing hard labor and then go home to attend to the needs of their families on wages that are too low to pull them above the poverty line even when they work full time and year ’round.... To do better by them is do better by the whole country’s future."

Katherine S. Newman, Conference on Balancing Acts, June 199951

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