Working families face serious obstacles in the current economy: it’s challenging to get time off to care for sick and injured family members, childcare is expensive and/or inaccessible, limited support for flexible hours is available, the simple costs of raising children are increasing and parents are spending more time than ever at work when they want to be home with their children.
Prior to the Working Families Summit, the Republicans prepared a package of bills they said were designed to help people balance work, life and childraising. The highlights of those bills, however, are more like lowlights.
“A Fair Shot for Everyone,” as the GOP is billing the six-bill package, reads as anything but when it comes to families, labor rights and balancing home/office environments.
How about a tax break for a baby crib in your office? Currently, working parents are not allowed to take a tax deduction on a home office if a baby crib is present, and the Republicans have helpfully suggested that this should be changed, allowing parents to keep an eye on baby while working. What about parents who have to go into the office? They’re on their own — none of the six bills provide incentives, mandates or frameworks for improving access to workplace childcare or helping parents get childcare outside the workplace.
You’ve worked overtime: How about you trade that for some comp time? Senator Mike Lee (Utah) has suggested that when working parents exceed 40 hours a week on the job (most work at least 50), they could choose between comp time and overtime pay. That would allow them to take personal days without risks when they need to, thanks to accrued comp time. His contribution to the needs of working families, apparently, is to suggest that parents work for free so they can get personal days later — in contrast to the growing push for more extensive paid family and medical leave laws that would protect working parents, among others.
Need health care? Too bad. The “40 Hours is Full Time Act” would change existing Affordable Care Act mandates requiring that employers provide health insurance to all people working 30 or more hours a week. Under this bill, such coverage wouldn’t kick in until 40 hours, allowing employers to save big on health insurance expenses — and kicking approximately half a million people off health insurance plans.
About the only thing the Democrats and Republicans seem to be able to agree on when it comes to working families is the need for increased access to training and education programs, reflecting the fact that more and more adults are struggling in the current economy. For those seeking new career opportunities, the cost of accessing job training can be prohibitive, and improving such programs could help working families increase their annual earnings and improve their chances of advancing in the work place.
By comparison, the Democratic package, which includes protections for pregnant women, a crackdown on paycheck fairness, better childcare services, and more, seems positively left-wing, even though it’s actually pretty tame when compared to the kinds of benefits available to working families in Europe.
Photo credit: Tom Reynolds.