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School day ends at 3, workday for parents at 5 or later. Why do we take that for granted?

ASK THIS | April 19, 2007

Reporters and editors should try to find out: How much of a problem is the so-called ‘care crisis’ in your community, and what can be done about it?

By E.J. Graff

Q. The care crisis: Are our community’s schools in synch with working families’ needs?

Although women now make up half the nation’s workforce, our important social institutions are still structured as if every family kept someone at home to care for children, the sick, and the disabled. But the incomes that made that possible are long gone. Our economy needs all hands on deck to prosper. And so do families.

This is the first in a series suggesting ways for reporters to focus on what Ruth Rosen has called the “care crisis” in America.

Too often, family values are in conflict with the 21st century workplace’s 24/7 expectations and with schools’ 19th century agrarian schedules. The gaps between employers’ expectations, schools’ demands, and families’ needs are structurally profound, and cannot be solved one family at a time.

Investigations are needed to expose those gaps and reveal the costs to our communities.

Editors and reporters can cover these major social issues locally, and in a way that’s substantive rather than simply anecdotal or, as could happen, inflammatory. It’s important to avoid treating these serious public issues as if they were individual women’s personal problems. For instance, you want to avoid peddling “the opt-out myth,” which suggests (counterfactually) that women are newly choosing to abandon their careers for their children. And you want to avoid the controversial (and equally counterfactual) “mommy wars,” in which women who work and women who stay home are falsely pitted against each other. So what investigations can you undertake that could reveal serious social issues and lead to important public policy discussions?

More than 70 percent of American children are growing up in households in which all adults are in the workforce. More than 50 percent of American workers have no flexibility in their work schedules and no paid sick days. And yet many schools are still run as if every child had someone at home who can come in as needed. And most American schools are still run on agrarian schedules, letting children at 3 P.M. although their parents must stay at work until 5 P.M. or later. How is this affecting your community?

Here are some questions to ask:

Q. In our community, what’s the percentage of children growing up in households with all adults in the workforce?

Q. What’s the percentage in our public and private schools?

Q. Are our community’s schools on the same schedules as our workforce¾or are schools scheduled at starting and ending times that make working families to scramble, one by one, for solutions to the drop-off problem and the 3 P.M. - 6 P.M. problem?

Q. How does that gap affect working families?

Q. How often do our schools schedule mandatory or important events for parents during the workday?

Q. How do our schools accommodate parents whose employers do not permit them to leave for school events?

Q. What are the costs and benefits of change?

For help on some of these questions, click here for an online list of sources put out by the Brandeis University Gender and Justice Project.

Next: The care crisis: What’s needed to help support the children of working families?

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