Time for the US to create more family-friendly leave policies: experts

By Pankaj Adhikari Source:Global Times Published: 2014-8-7 17:23:01

A lack of flexibility at the workplace, paid family leave and affordable childcare make things difficult for working parents in the US. It is time to implement workplace policies that give all workers the best chance to succeed at work and at home, experts say.

President Barack Obama recently signed a presidential memorandum asking every agency in the federal government to expand access to flexible work schedules. He has also urged Congress to pass the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act.

Most workers want flexibility - the ability to take a few hours off for a school play or to work from home when your kid is sick. But not enough of them have it, even though studies show that flexibility makes workers happier and helps companies raise productivity, Obama said.

"Family leave, childcare, flexibility and a decent wage are basic needs. They should be the bottom line," he said recently.

In 63 percent of US families with children, both parents in the household work. About 32 percent of families with children are single-parent families. And yet, the nation has not adapted to make it easier for working parents to balance their jobs with the economic and logistical difficulties of raising families, experts say.

The US is one of three countries in the world where there is no guaranteed maternity leave for working mothers, according to the UN. Most developed countries require employers to provide some amount of paid maternity or paternity leave, paid family and sick leave. The US lags behind other developed countries in all of these areas. In 1990, the US had the sixth highest female labor participation rate among 22 of the world's wealthiest countries. Today, the US ranks 17th.

Werner Baer, professor of economics at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, said to the Global Times, "The nation's policies for working parents must keep up with the reality of the 21th century American family."

Veronica Cheng, a mother of two kids living in Short Hills, New Jersey, said to the Global Times, "There should be paid family leave for working parents caring for a newborn child, for working sons and daughters caring for an ill parent, or for working husbands and wives caring for a sick spouse."

Meanwhile, some businesses are realizing that family-friendly policies inspire workers to go the extra mile. JetBlue offers a flexible work-from-home plan for its customer service representatives. In 2012, Google increased its paid parental leave to five months - after which the rate of women leaving the company decreased by half.

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