Working Families Face Declining Incomes with Little Help in Balancing Work and Life

The majority of America's working families have suffered a steady erosion of their wages and persistent difficulties balancing work and family responsibilities, according to research by Thomas Kochan, co-director of the MIT Workplace Center and the MIT Institute for Work and Employment Research. In Regaining Control of Our Destiny: A Working Families' Agenda for America, he argues that employers as well as the government should make drastic changes to close the gap between high- and low-wage earners and better position future generations for success. Furthermore, he urges working families to 'be catalysts for action, to raise their voices' to regain control of their destinies.  

'We have to stop treating work and family as separate entities and start recognizing them for what they are today: tightly coupled parts of the world in which we work and live,' Kochan argues. 'Unless we make a fundamental change in direction, we will leave these problems to our children.'   

In his research, Kochan examined U.S. Census Bureau data and found that, on average, two-parent families worked 15 percent more in 2000 than they did in 1985. For those families in which both the husband and wife held a bachelor's or advanced degree, their income rose by 26 percent between 1980 and 2000. However, just 29 percent of men and 26 percent of women have bachelor's or advanced degrees.  

Median and lower wage workers, despite working more hours, are not benefiting financially. Adjusted for inflation, these worker's weekly and hourly wages actually are lower now than they were in November 2001. They are in the same financial position they were in a generation ago.  

Balancing work and family care is a challenge for any working family. However, for workers who earn lower wages and are not experiencing great economic gains, accessing quality, affordable child care is difficult. In addition, lower wage earners receive little help from employers to balance work and family. For example, while 63 percent of workers who earn $45,000 or more are allowed to take time off without pay to care for a sick child, only 39 percent of workers who earn $29,000 or less have that benefit.   

'A collaborative approach to changing workplace policies and norms is needed so that flexibility is both available to all workers' and that workers feel able to use this flexibility without fear that doing so will have a negative effect on their jobs or careers,' Kochan writes.  

Kochan's whitepaper includes a seven-step approach to promoting the 'working families agenda.' One approach entails the unification of working families into a coalition that fights for change in the workplace and in the country.

To read more about Kochan's approach, click here.

Written by: Bright Horizons Blog Editor

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