Shared Responsibility, Shared Risk: Government, Markets and Social Policy in the Twenty-First Century

By Jacob S. Hacker; Ann O’Leary | Go to book overview

9
Risk Sharing When Work and Family Clash:
The Need for Government and Employer Innovation

ANN O’LEARY


Introduction

Family caregiving needs, which force workers to leave the workforce or downscale their commitment to work, are unlike most of the other risks described in this volume. Unlike health insurance and retirement pensions, this risk has never rested primarily with employers or the government. Instead, the responsibility of caring for children and ailing relatives traditionally has resided within the family. Public policies—from social insurance to labor and health laws—presume that when a child needs care or a family member is ill, someone in the family is able and available to provide that care.

This does not mean, however, that the risks associated with family care have remained constant. Quite the contrary: changes in family composition, shifts in the demographics of the workforce, and the lack of government and employer action to comprehensively address the needs of modern families and workers have meant that caregiving poses sharply increased risks for many families.

Changes in family composition have had the most impact on increasing family caregiving risks. Today, just 25 percent of families consist of two parents with one parent at home and one parent in the labor force. But in 1975, nearly half (48 percent) of families consisted of two parents with one in the workforce and one who stayed at home to care for the family.1 With few adults left at home to attend to unexpected family caregiving needs—such as caring for an ill child or taking an elderly parent to the doctor—workers often now need to exit the labor market to provide that care, which can impose economic harm on families as well as the entire economy.

These caregiving risks have profoundly reshaped the needs, demands, and wishes of workers. A recent poll conducted by the Rockefeller Foundation and Time magazine found that an overwhelming majority of Americans believe— across genders as well as political and religious affiliations—that employers should be required to provide employees with greater workplace flexibility and

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