Community panel examines stresses of juggling work, family life

By Carl Pickerill

Seeking to address the concerns of working-class parents in today’s post-industrial economic environment, the University Community Service Center (UCSC) hosted a discussion examining the often-difficult task of juggling work and family.

With a speaking panel of three Chicago area activists, the Wednesday evening event, “Welfare to Wall Street: What People, Governments, and Corporations Can Do When Work and Family Conflict,” addressed pressing issues concerning the stability of the family and the maintenance of a job or professional career.

“We, as a society, have failed to deal with the rising pressures that face someone who tries to combine family life with employment,” said Phyllis Russell, executive director of Work, Welfare, and Families. “The world of the work force has changed in the past two decades, and we have a distinct policy that inadequately accounts for those changes.”

Much of the panel discussion focused on the lack of adequate day care and the reluctance of employers to provide paid leaves of absence for maternal care.

“The state of Illinois is no longer maintaining its commitment to child-care,” Russell said. “We are going though a fiscal crisis, and this has threatened just about all social services in the state, including providing for the care of children.”

Rhonda Present, the founder of ParentsWork, intimated the need for underprivileged families to form a unified political voice.

“When I had my first child, I was fortunate enough to have an employer who was understanding enough to allow for telecommuting and to create a position for me away from the workplace from which I could contribute,” Present said. “This is not possible for a lot of the families that I work with. My thinking is that it would be wonderful for these families to come together as a political force.”

Present emphasized the need to include paid family leave as a benefit for employees of all classes.

Mary Clark, executive director of Winning Workplaces, acknowledged the difficulty that employers face in the midst of an economic downturn. She pointed to the tech craze of the 90’s as a period where the foundation was laid for much of the childcare-related employee benefits.

“Especially in California’s Silicon Valley area, replacing employees was expensive; talent was needed and employees looked for childcare help and a casual environment,” Clark said.

“Now, however, employers have lost sight of these cares, as they are less concerned about growth and retaining talent.”

Clark mentioned the lack of flexible scheduling in many jobs that threatens the wellness of the worker.

“In tough times, the employer is looking for 150 percent output from their employees,” she said. “Our argument is that if benefits such as flexible scheduling and paid leave are provided, then more efficient output and loyalty will naturally follow.”

Sujata Bhat, a third-year in the College, helped coordinate the panel discussion, selecting and contacting the three speakers, and said the issue was one of prime importance.

“The goal to look at how the conflict between work and family plays out for people of varying socioeconomic strata,” Bhat said in an e-mail interview.