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Journal Issue: Work and Family Volume 21 Number 2 Fall 2011

The Role of the Government in Work-Family Conflict
Heather Boushey

Summary

The foundations of the major federal policies that govern today's workplace were put in place during the 1930s, when most families had a stay-at-home caregiver who could tend to the needs of children, the aged, and the sick. Seven decades later, many of the nation's workplace policies are in need of major updates to reflect the realities of the modern workforce. American workers, for example, typically have little or no control over their work hours and schedules; few have a right to job-protected access to paid leave to care for a family member.

Heather Boushey examines three types of work-family policies that affect work-family conflict and that are in serious need of repair—those that govern hours worked and workplace equity, those that affect the ability of workers to take time off from work because their families need care, and those that govern the outsourcing of family care when necessary. In each case Boushey surveys new programs currently on the policy agenda, assesses their effectiveness, and considers the extent to which they can be used as models for a broader federal program.

Boushey looks, for example, at a variety of pilot and experimental programs that have been implemented both by private employers and by federal, state, and local governments to provide workers with flexible working hours. Careful evaluations of these programs show that several can increase scheduling flexibility without adversely affecting employers.

Although few Americans have access to paid family and medical leave to attend to family needs, most believe that businesses should be required to provide paid leave to all workers. Boushey notes that several states are moving in that direction. Again, careful evaluations show that these experimental programs are successful for both employers and employees.

National programs to address child and elder care do not yet exist. The most comprehensive solution on the horizon is the universal prekindergarten programs offered by a few states, most often free of charge, for children aged three and four.