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Thursday, June 24, 2004

Family-Friendly Far from Fair? Part II

Ally at the Who Moved My Truth? blog has a friendly disagreement with some of what I posted here about family-friendly policies in public accommodations and workplaces.

So, in the same friendly spirit, I'll go into a little more depth.

First, I agree that childless persons are at times inconvenienced and at times have expenses (such as taxes for public education and Medicaid for underinsured minors) because other persons have decided to have children. I also believe that childless persons at times benefit from the fact that other persons have decided to have children.

I acknowledge that there is a tax-deduction for dependents in the tax code. We could have a philosophical debate over whether a tax-deduction amounts to a subsidy, but for simplicity's sake in this argument, I will say that it is. This subsidy does not, however, come close to making child-rearing a financially-profitable enterprise for most couples (I will make an exception for the parents of the Olson twins).

Regarding the workplace: Our workplaces are undergoing a shift that will take some time to work through. Several decades ago the norm was a working man and a homemaker wife. Accommodations within the workplace for child-rearing were minimal because the wife shielded the working husband from many child-rearing concerns. As women entered the workforce in large numbers, accommodations increased and continue to do so -- but have not yet expanded to the degree necessary.

Many times, hidebound policies unnecessarily limit an employer's ability to accommodate workers who place a high priority on flexible schedules.

Once such hidebound policy is the notion of promoting workers by seniority. Ally says, to quote just a small part of her observations, "...Employers must be careful. If you are looking at promotion, and a mother with 2 children and a single childless woman are up, but the mother has more seniority.... well, that employer is going to walk a fine line."

They shouldn't. They should promote the person who can do the job better. Companies that don't promote based on merit are slowly strangling themselves. If they do not hire and promote based on merit, a rival will.

But all that is the long run. In the short run, some people are being asked to cover for others who have parental responsibilities (just as motivated workers often cover for the unmotivated, the clever for the dullards, the hardworking for the lazy, etc.). I concede this. The best reaction to this, in my view, is for the childless worker covering for a parent to seek compensation (just as a clever, useful worker deserves more compensation than the dullard goof-off). Maybe cash, maybe a better chance for advancement, maybe to get the bigger office or be the last one laid off in a recession. Ask for compensation just the way the other employee asks to leave early. And if you are in a workplace with rules or labor contracts that prohibit this kind of flexibility on your employer's part, seriously consider a job change, if not immediately, eventually. The flourishing firms of the future will be those flexible enough to adapt to changing market conditions, and labor markets are part of that.

Now, on to Social Security. I mentioned it in my earlier post primarily as a throwaway consolation line, but it is true for all that. Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson, abetted by Congresses, gave us a system in which persons from roughly their mid-sixties on expect cash -- loads of it -- from younger workers, and younger workers go along with it. The system requires a steady influx of young workers to survive. I don't think it is unreasonable to note that those persons who raise the younger workers are providing society with a service. The Social Security and Medicare system, however, also are hidebound and need to change. It is not only unfair to ask one generation en masse to support another, it is impractical. As we increasingly are finding out.

So, in conclusion, inequities exist. If you find yourself facing some, demand change or compensation.

Posted by Amy Ridenour at 10:11 PM

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