Changing workforce highlights need for family-friendly workplaces

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Evaluating Family and Medical Leave Insurance for Washington State

Significant changes in workforce demographics have led to increased need for family-friendly workplace policies that enable workers to better balance the responsibilities of family, health and career. But absent new public standards and programs, private employers have responded slowly.

Paid leave benefits have generally been limited to those workers with the greatest bargaining power, either because of training and skills or representation by a labor union.

The face of the labor force has changed considerably over the past several decades, including a notable increase in the proportion of women in the workforce. Today, women hold nearly half of jobs throughout the U.S.

About 60% of Washington’s women participated in the labor force in 2011 – up from 52% in 1981. The increase is even sharper among mothers. In 1975, just 47% of U.S. moms with children under 18 participated in the labor force. Now, more than two-thirds of mothers with kids at home are employed, and 59% of moms with children under six were working in 2010.

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As women and mothers have joined the workforce, families have become increasingly reliant on women’s earnings. In 1975, husbands were the sole breadwinner while wives were stay-at-home moms in 45% of families with children. By 2008, only 21% of families had this arrangement. Now, about four in ten moms are the primary breadwinners for their families.

Single mothers, as sole earners, are more likely than those who are married to hold a job. In Washington, 70% of single mothers were employed in 2010, compared with 62% of married moms.

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