Today, the majority of children in Nebraska and nationwide live in families where both parents work. Several generations ago, this was not the case. It used to be that most families had one parent in the workforce while the other stayed home to raise the kids. Times have changed and most married couples with kids are dual earner families. There has also been a rise in single-parent families, which made up about 31% of all Nebraska families in 2012.
These changes have created challenges for families, made greater by the fact that our policies have not kept pace. The modern workplace and the systems we have in place are still made for a world where stay at home parents are the norm.
On Monday, I had the exciting opportunity to attend the White House Summit on Working Families. The Summit brought together a diverse gathering of people interested in ensuring that we create policies that meet the needs of today’s working families. Some of the policy changes highlighted at the summit included increasing access to affordable quality child care and establishing paid family and medical leave and sick leave.
Many people told personal stories of moments of feeling like they were forced to chose between obligations to their family and work. The Vice President relayed that when he was a U.S. Senator, he missed 13% of votes because he was commuting home to Delaware to be with his kids in the months after their mother had been killed in a car accident. His opponent tried to use his frequent absences to disparage him in the next campaign.
The First Lady told a story about leaving the workforce to care for her young children and then being asked to interview for a new position. She showed up at the interview with her young baby, and explained to the interviewer that she would only take the job if they agreed to give her the flexibility she needed to care for her young child. She was hired, but these stories represent those who are more fortunate. Others told stories of being fired for putting family first. Many — about 40 million people nationwide — don’t have access to paid sick leave so that they can be with their child when they get ill or access to affordable quality child care while they work.
These challenges create additional stress for families, and the time has come to put family first in our policies. Working parents shouldn’t have to chose between being a good parent and being a good employee. Research has established that this helps not only individuals, but the company bottom line. Real access to affordable quality child care, paid sick leave, and paid family and medical are essential and the time has come to modernize state and federal policies to meet the needs of today’s working parents.