Academic journal article The Future of Children

Employer Supports for Parents with Young Children. (Caring for Infants and Toddlers)

Academic journal article The Future of Children

Employer Supports for Parents with Young Children. (Caring for Infants and Toddlers)

Article excerpt


The competing interests of employers, working parents, and very young children collide in decisions over work schedules, child care arrangements, promotions, children's sicknesses, and overtime hours. With the rising number of women in the labor force, more and more employers are concerned about how their workers balance work and family priorities. This article examines the supports that employers provide to help parents with young children juggle demands on their time and attention. It reviews the availability of traditional benefits, such as vacation and health insurance, and describes family-friendly initiatives. Exciting progress is being made in this arena by leading employers, but coverage remains uneven:

* Employers say they provide family-friendly policies and programs to improve staff recruitment and retention, reduce absenteeism, and increase job satisfaction and company loyalty. Evaluations demonstrate positive impacts on each of these valued outcomes.

* Employee benefits and work/family supports seldom reach all layers of the work force, and low-income workers who need assistance the most are the least likely to receive or take advantage of it.

* Understandably, employer policies seek to maximize productive work time. However, it is often in the best interests of children for a parent to be able to set work aside to address urgent family concerns.

The author concludes that concrete work/family supports like on-site child care, paid leave, and flextime are important innovations. Ultimately, the most valuable aid to employees would be a family-friendly workplace culture, with supportive supervision and management practices.

Employers play a significant role in helping families care for their infants and toddlers through a variety of work-based policies, practices, and programs. Most employers have long provided basic benefits, such as health insurance and maternity benefits. More recent initiatives by a small but growing number of employers address parents' needs for time off and scheduling flexibility, assistance in finding or paying for child care, or access to quality services on site. Employers provide this support through internal human resource policies, philanthropic contributions, and volunteer efforts that expand or improve children's programs in the communities in which they do business.

Despite enthusiasm for these family-friendly policies and programs on the part of employees and family advocates, the extent of employer support is limited, and access by working parents is not at all equal. Support varies by the region of the country, the size of the company, and whether the employee works full time or part time. Lower-income employees who most need employer supports are the least likely to enjoy family-friendly employment.

The Employee's Perspective

The need for employer supports is primarily a function of the increasing labor force participation of mothers. The most rapid growth in employment has occurred among mothers of very young children: 32% of mothers with children under age six worked in 1970; in 1999, some 64% of mothers with children under age six and 59% of mothers with children under age two were in the labor force. (1) Some 6% of the workforce is comprised of mothers who do not have the support of the child's father and are raising the children on their own. (2) For companies experiencing labor shortages, it is significant that 60% of labor force growth is expected to come from women. (3)

On the other hand, the portion of households with two employed parents has doubled since 1950, making dual-earner couples the largest group of families in the workplace. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 1996, members of dual-earner families made up 45% of the working population. (4) Analyses of the General Social Survey from 1973 through 1994 indicate that work hours have increased at a faster rate for dual-earner couples than for the population of workers as a whole. …

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