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Robert Reich on Families & Children

Former Secretary of Labor; Democratic Challenger MA Governor


Women entering paid work in 1970s has reshaped the family

women moved into paid work. Starting in the late 1970s, and escalating in the 1980s and 1990s, women migrated into paid work in order to prop up family incomes, as households were hit by the stagnant or declining wages of male workers.

Starting in the late 1970s, the American middle class honed coping mechanisms , allowing it to behave as though it was still taking home the same share of total income as it had during the Great Prosperity [of the 1960s. One] coping mechanism was that Families seem to have reached the limit, however, a point of diminishing returns where the costs of hiring others to help in the running of a household or to take care of the children, or both, exceeds the apparent benefits of the additional income. This transition of women into paid work has been one of the most important social and economic changes to occur over the last four decades. It has reshaped American families and challenged traditional patterns of child rearing and child care.

Source: Aftershock, by Robert Reich, p. 60-62 , Apr 5, 2011

Paid leave to care for child or elderly relative

So what does promoting family values really mean?

It means prohibiting discrimination against someone because she is a woman, or wants to raise a family, or has to attend to family needs.

It means taking the next step on Family and Medical Leave, and giving PAID leave to employees who must take some time off to care for a child or elderly relative.

It means ensuring affordable child care and elder care.

It means automatically raising the minimum wage when inflation reduces the value of the dollar.

It means expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit and putting more money back in the pockets of millions of working families with modest incomes.

It means making unemployment insurance available to anyone who loses a job--regardless of how long she had held the particular job she lost.

It means helping people save for their retirement by expanding pension coverage.

Source: I'll Be Short, by Robert Reich, p.105 , May 2, 2002

Marriage declined in the 1970s because wages stagnated

Smaller or delayed families can be understood in terms of the emerging economy, but why is marriage disappearing as well? Americans are now less likely to marry than at any other time since statistics on marriages began to be tallied almost a century ago

25 years ago, a man with a stable job in the old mass-production economy could contribute quite a lot. Moreover, most women lacked a separate source of income. Under these circumstances, a man's commitment to a stable marriage had significant value to a woman. Since then, such a commitment has steadily declined in value, like a share of stock in a company that's going downhill.

Consider also HER own separate stream of income. Although starting from a much lower level than men and still lagging behind, her stock is generally going up.

Women no longer have to marry in order to have some economic security. The rising rate of divorce already has slowed, largely because fewer women are getting married in the first place.

Source: The Future of Success, by Robert Reich, p.165-167 , Feb 8, 2002

Crisis of illegitimacy is a misleading half-truth

There is a serious crisis of illegitimacy, all right, but not quite the crisis it's often made out to be. Remember that fewer women are getting married, and that even when they do, they're having far fewer children. So it's increasingly likely that when children are born, they'll be born to women who are unmarried [because fewer children overall are being born]. This may be bad for the children, but it doesn't signal a marked trend toward illegitimacy.

In other words, some of the so-called "crisis of illegitimacy" is a by-product of the larger trends toward fewer marriages and fewer children born to married couples. As more women have begun to have fewer children, or no children, even the rate of births to unmarried women has begun to level off.

Here's another misleading half-truth: Nearly 70% of black babies are born to black single mothers. What you don't hear is that black women are having fewer babies to begin with.

Source: The Future of Success, by Robert Reich, p.167-168 , Feb 8, 2002

Definition of family is changing because people want it

Underlying the legal definitions of a "family" are 4 simple criteria: Members of a family remain committed to one another for life. They spent a lot of time together under the same roof. Families reproduced themselves biologically, and helped their offspring grow into adulthood. And they supported one another--financially & with caring attention.

Most families still conform to these 4 basic criteria, but to a lesser extent. Connections are becoming more temporary, people spend less time together, couples are having fewer children, financial support between spouses is eroding, and care and attention are being subcontracted. Extend these trends into the future, and "family" may mean something entirely different.

This does not necessarily signify a problem. People WANT this new kind of "family" life--at least in the superficial (and admittedly tautological) sense that they've chosen it for themselves. Given the new economy, the choices people are making about family are entirely rational.

Source: The Future of Success, by Robert Reich, p.174-175 , Feb 8, 2002

Make child care a fully tax-deductible business expense

Businesses should be encouraged--perhaps required--to offer parents flexible time to do their work, and paid leave to care for a young child or an elderly relative in need. Many firms already offer these amenities to their high-paid creative workers, but few such benefits are available further down the hierarchy.

And businesses are quickly transforming themselves into contractual networks in which fewer workers are "employees" in the old sense. Thus, such requirements on employers may be less effective over the long term than direct public supports for people who work. One such support could be made available through the tax system. Because the costs of child care (and, often, of caring for an elderly relative) are literally "business expenses" that would not be incurred absent paid work, such expenses might be made fully deductible from income taxes.

Source: The Future of Success, by Robert Reich, p.245 , Feb 8, 2002

Better jobs programs would result in more stable marriages

The new census shows a huge increase in unmarried couples living together and a plunge in the rate of marriage. [But it’s because of a change in the economy, not] a decline in morality.

30 years ago, most men had stable jobs that earned them paychecks big enough to support families. Men’s paychecks have become more precarious. Median wages have actually dropped, and his job might vanish tomorrow. Meanwhile women have streamed into the work force. It would be entirely rational for a woman in today’s economy to say, in effect: “Fella, you can stay with me as long as you contribute to household expenses. But when your contribution stops or takes a dive, you’re out of here.”

So rather than start a government campaign to promote marriage, perhaps a better way to improve the odds that fragile families will stay together is to help men-and women-become and stay gainfully employed. Policy-makers don’t normally think about job training and education as parts of a marriage agenda, but they should.

Source: PBS radio Marketplace broadcast, “What Happened to Marriage” , Jun 21, 2001

Balance of family & job is harder in new economy

Robert Reich, who served for the Clinton administration during the heart of the 1990s, says the decade of economic growth and new technology wasn’t all good. “It is harder to achieve a balanced life in the year 2001 than it was in the year 1991,” Reich says. “Ten years of a very solid economy and good economic growth have also created an economy that is more stressful.”

Along with bigger paychecks and better cell phones, we work harder and longer, says Reich. And the lack of balance is taking its toll on our personal lives. “Each of us assumes that it’s our own fault,” he says. “We fret that we are inadequate workers or inadequate parents or members of communities. But we have to understand that we’re not alone and there are reasons for these feelings that have to do with the way the economy has evolved.”

[Reich personally felt left with] no time, in particular, for his family. Reich jumped out of the rat race, stepping down from his position in 1997 to spend more time with his family.

Source: Jamie Allen, CNN.com , Mar 5, 2001

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Page last updated: Mar 15, 2014