Our changing workforce requires modern policies like paid sick days and family leave

January 2, 2013 | Tatsuko Go Hollo

employedwivespercentcontributionWomen have been a growing share of the workforce over the last several decades and now hold half of jobs. Research suggests that some women have joined the workforce in response to growing costs to support a family, particularly during tough economic times.

A new study from the University of New Hampshire indicates recessionary periods serve to increase the proportion of wives in the workforce. Tracking workforce participation since 1988, this data shows the proportion of wives earning income has increased nearly 10% over the last 25 years, including those with children.

While there have been increases during each of the last three recessions, the largest jump occurred during the Great Recession. As many of the sectors that were hit hardest, including construction, were those predominated by men, wives stepped into the workforce to make up for a husband’s loss in earnings.

However, as men have returned to work, the proportion of income-earning wives hasn’t waned. And researchers don’t see this trend reversing any time soon – women, wives and moms will continue to hold half of jobs for the foreseeable future. So with families relying on mom’s income more than ever, it’s essential our nation’s labor policies are modernized to reflect the changing workforce demographics.

Workers should be able to care for their families, without having to worry about making ends meet or losing their job. Paid sick days are essential for those few days each year when we catch a cold or our child wakes up with a fever. And for the life events that require weeks or month of time away from work – an aging parent, a new child, a serious health condition – family and medical leave insurance provides economic security when it’s most important for a worker to be with loved ones.

Paid sick days and family and medical leave insurance aren’t just important to the women and moms in the labor force. All workers get sick, and everyone experiences times in their life when more than a few days of leave from work are necessary. As our economy sputters out of the worst recession in most of our lifetimes, it’s time to implement policies that increase worker productivity and retention. Paid sick days and family and medical leave insurance don’t just benefit workers and their families, they also make businesses stronger – thereby boosting the economy. Healthy workers mean healthy families, thriving communities and a strong economy.

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Posted in A Fair Deal at Work, Paid Family and Medical Leave, Paid Sick Days


  1. Fleur Bayley says:

    Coming from Australia, it’s difficult for us to imagine these “benefits” (here we would refer to them as worker’s rights!) are not yet available to all workers in the US.

    • It’s really something, isn’t it? I think the key here in the U.S. is for progressive people/organizations to start talking more about “rewarding hard work” – because while hard work is a value many Americans hold dear, most really aren’t seeing the benefits of that work. Thanks for your comment and perspective!

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