WASHINGTON _ Despite a booming economy, American parents spend more time at work and away from their families, said experts on workplace and family life.
“We’re just beginning to understand we need to deal with the economic changes that affect working families,” said Jeff Faux, president of the Economic Policy Institute, a non-profit organization that researches issues and makes policy recommendations.
The institute, and other scholars and officials who study workplace issues, diagnosed the problems facing American workers at a day-long conference, Tuesday. The Economic Policy Institute, Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and the U.S. Department of Labor sponsored the conference.
American families are caught in a time squeeze, the experts said. Children are paying a lot of the price. And much of the pressure on families comes from employees’ notions of success – and some employers expectations for long hours on the job.
Experts at a June 15 conference cited changes in the workplace culture as one of the reasons for this new concept of success. The conference was sponsored by the Economic Policy Institute, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and the U.S. Department of Labor.
To back up those conclusions, the researchers cite these statistics:
Sixty-eight percent of children had all the parents in their household working in 1996, up from 59 percent in 1989, said Suzanne Bianchi, acting director of the Center on Population, Gender and Social Inequality at the University of Maryland.
Recreation time has gone down from nine hours a week in 1965 to just more than seven hours a week in the 1990s, said Tom Fricke, director of the University of Michigan’s Center for the Ethnography of Everyday Life.
Average middle-income families are working three weeks more a year than they were 10 years ago, according to a U.S. Census Bureau study cited by the researchers.
Dual-earner households have increased by more than 20 percent in the last 30 years, according to Marin Clarkberg, assistant professor of sociology at Cornell University.
Fewer than one in five households said they work longer than they want to only for the money, Clarkberg said. Instead, many Americans feel that working more hours is equated with success, Clarkberg said.
She showed an advertisement that pictured a woman giving a presentation on one side and a janitor cleaning another office on the other side. The ad read: “It’s 10 p.m. on a Friday night. Now which company do you think we work with?”
“Employers are looking at work hours as a means of production,” Clarkberg said. “And employees now feel like they have to masquerade as people who want to work long hours.”
Phyllis Moen, who is heading a new employment research project at Cornell University, suggested employers should change the working culture in American companies.
Her studies, Moen said, found employees are more likely to stay in their job and are better able to balance work and family if they have control over the amount of time they work, a reasonable workload, a stake in the company and the opportunity to share opinions about company policies. But many family dilemmas hinge on needing flexible work hours.
“Couples are managing as best they can, but a significant number of working partners want fewer hours,” Moen said. “What we need is a new direction for jobs and career paths.”
But so far, employers and the government have offered only “Band-Aid” fixes, she said. Some businesses have set worker-incentive policies, such as paternity leave, that employees seldom use. And the government has offered tax breaks to companies that create worker-incentive programs, Moen said.
But because of the strong economy, experts are not optimistic about government and businesses addressing families’ concerns.
“The whole work-family issue is rarely on state or municipal government’s radar screens,” she said. “Government business, non-profit organizations, communities and families themselves suffer from tunnel-vision and offer only stamp-size solutions.”