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Workers caring for Parents

The Obama administration is taking action to persuade employers to support workers caring for aging parents. The President’s Budget for FY2011 provides many initiatives to build work-family policies including investments to support caregivers for elderly relatives or family members with disabilities and to build employers’ knowledge base about policies.

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Some highlights in the recent report by the executive office of the  President Council of Economic Advisers are:

-Nearly one-fifth of employed people were caregivers who provided care to a person over age 50, even when the figure was researched in 2008

-Only about 15 percent of workers report working from home at least once per week.

-The costs to firms of adopting [flexible work practices] can be outweighed by reduced absenteeism, lower turnover, healthier workers, and increased productivity.

-The need for flexibility in jobs has been caused by changing demographics in the workplace since WWII. “In 1950, women constituted about 30 percent of the labor force; in 2009, they comprised nearly half. At the same time, people born around 1940 have a life expectancy over 10 years longer than those of the previous generation (born in 1910), producing added responsibilities for the care of older family members as well.”

-“A substantial fraction of work could, in principle, be conducted from home or a satellite office. One study estimated that in 2000 more than half of all jobs were amenable to telecommuting, at least on a part-time basis, and undoubtedly that fraction has increased since then as a result of the spread of high-speed internet and mobile technology.”

-“Perhaps the ultimate form of workplace flexibility is the evaluation of employees based on what they produce rather than the number of hours they work. This management practice, called ‘results-only work environment’ (or ROWE), allows for flexibility along multiple dimensions because it permits workers to choose when, where, and for how long they work, as long as they are sufficiently productive.”

-“There is evidence that workers take into account the entire compensation package—and not only wages—when considering job offers….[skilled] workers must be paid higher wages to accept jobs without health insurance, partly to help pay for their health expenses. Similarly, workers who have little workplace flexibility require higher wages to help pay for services such as emergency child care and elder care…if the value to employees of flexible arrangements exceeds the costs of providing them to the employer, flexibility is a cost-effective tool for attracting and retaining workers.”

-“A growing literature links job stress to poor health (such as chronic hypertension and heart disease) linking poor worker health to poor economic outcomes, such as lower productivity and slower economic growth.”

-“Flexible practices may help society in ways that are not taken into account by either an employer or employee (what economists call “social benefits”). For several reasons it is possible that these social benefits are larger than the private ones. Taxpayers and society as a whole benefit from having productive individuals in the workforce because they are more likely to make contributions in the form of taxes (and conversely are less likely to use the social safety net). As another social benefit, allowing workers to work during atypical hours can reduce the commuting time for other workers that may not be taken into account by a profit-maximizing manager.73 One study found that in 2005, peak-period drivers spent 38 extra hours a year in traffic as a result of highway congestion, up from 14 hours in 1982.74 Moreover, over a third of drivers report that traffic congestion is a serious problem in their community.”

-“Especially at this time as the U.S. rebuilds after the Great Recession, it is critical for the 21st century U.S. workplace to be organized for the 21st century workforce”

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I will follow up with knowledge and studies on workplace flexibility in future posts, but it is heartening to know that high level governments may soon assist with the vital need to support employees with multiple family care demands.

The full Work Life Balance report

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