Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Why Don't American Parents Protest?

For all of the yammering about "family values," the truth of the matter is that Americans live in a culture that is decidedly un-friendly to families. Especially when compared with other industrialized nations.

In an essay in Dissent, Janet C. Gornick outlines some of the problems and the political work that needs to be done to build a movement to address issues like poor child care, lack of leave time, and long work hours. She essentially calls for a reconfigurement of the American government to approximate what European welfare states do:

Building a social consensus in the United States for more government support for working families will not be easy, but a few things are clear. If we want to spur change, we need a dramatically altered discourse about the role of government in the lives of American families. We need a new lexicon concerning “family values,” one that includes the damaging consequences of time poverty, as well as income poverty, for American workers and their families. We need to recognize that we, as a nation, must invest in our children’s care and education during the first five years of their lives—rather than waiting until they are old enough for kindergarten. We need to alert many more Americans to the extreme exceptionalism of U.S. family policy offerings relative to the other rich countries of the world—and, increasingly, from a global perspective as well. (The United States is one of five countries in the entire world without a national policy of paid maternity leave.) And, finally, we need to persuade Americans, on both the left and right, that a comprehensive package of work-family policies would be consistent with a more equitable distributional result—for women, for men, and for children—and with healthy macroeconomic outcomes as well.
This amounts to a wholesale social engineering project that is probably ambitious to a fault, but credit to Gornick nonetheless. She has a lot of interesting stuff to say about a crucial topic that tends to get short thrift in this country, even among those of us who consider ourselves politically active.