Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Workplace Takes Toll on Family Life

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Workplace Takes Toll on Family Life

Article excerpt

It's dusk now when I leave the office. The day is turning up its hem like a new fall skirt. I see the kids in my neighborhood scurrying to comply with parents' orders that they be home before dark - orders that the parents cannot always obey themselves.

On my way home these days, I think of my own childhood, of the fathers coming home on the same commuter trains, walking up the same streets at the same hour each day. Today it is the children who greet their parents.

My father was home by 6. I suppose some modern company, proud of its high-pressure productivity, would describe his schedule as "mommy hours." But in the 1950s most of the fathers worked "mommy hours." In the 1950s, most of them earned "family wages."

Not so in the 1990s.

It's not a news bulletin that we have evolved to a two-worker economy. If ever a final chapter was written on the Ozzie and Harriet era, it was Harriet Nelson's death this week.

Nor is it news that "the family wage" is now the combined salary of two parents who may be working two shifts, or three jobs. In the endless reruns of the old sitcom, the surprise is not just that Harriet is home, but that Ozzie is home.

In some reverse of labor history, the working class of today - upper, middle, lower working class, which is to say nearly everyone - works longer hours than most of our parents. We seem to be evolving into two classes, the underemployed and the overemployed, those who are desperate for work and those who are desperate for time. Especially family time.

When the autoworkers struck at the GM plant in Flint, Mich., recently, the tired middle-aged men and women carrying picket signs talked of 66-hour workweeks, of mandatory overtime, of missed Little Leagues and birthday parties, of lives that weren't lived. The overtime had once been gravy. Now they were drowning in gravy. What good is more money, they said in a dozen different voices, if you don't have time?

In some ways, they told the story that echoes across the country. In manufacturing jobs, the average workweek is now some 41 hours, higher than at any time since World War II. That average includes a substantial portion of workers for whom eight and 10 hours of overtime has become routine. …

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