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Jewish World Review April 11, 2001 / 18 Nissan, 5761

Bonnie Erbe

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Consumer Reports

Perks for Dad and Mom -- OH MY! Some new fodder emerged this week to fuel the continuing and silly food fight between parents and non-parents about who is more coddled on the job.

A group called The Employment Policy Foundation, which describes itself as "a nonprofit, nonpartisan economic research and educational foundation focusing on workplace trends and policies," released a survey comparing hours worked and wages earned by the two groups.

The report found although there is increasing pressure "to provide special benefits and protections to working parents, there is simply no evidence that parents as a group face labor market discrimination." In fact, the survey found just the opposite.

According to the foundation's analysis, parents "enjoy lower levels of unemployment, earn higher salaries and work more hours than (people) without children." This is no small benefit, given a rising unemployment rate and an economy teetering on the brink of recession. The foundation arrived at this conclusion by studying data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Leaders of a relatively new movement of workers who are either childfree by choice or who have grown children have been caterwauling of late that parents with children at home are excused to work fewer hours. They also resent government benefits for dependent children such as the tax code's $500 per child tax credit (President Bush wants to double that to $1,000) and a $2,800 "dependent deduction," worth about $784 to a family taxed at the 28 percent marginal rate.

This movement has the potential to muster the support of a lot of Americans if it takes off. There are 141 million workers in this country. Thirty-seven percent or 52.7 million are parents with children under the age of 18. Some 48 million workers or 34 percent have never had children and 29 percent or 40.6 million are empty-nesters whose children have moved out and presumably are no longer claimed as tax deductions.

But non-parents who believe parents may sometimes slough off (and dump extra work on non-parents) should take heart from the foundation's findings that full-time working parents put in on average 36 minutes more per week than childfree full-time employees. Why? The foundation assumes it is because they have greater expenses and need more money.

Now here's another angle that may cause jealousy to rear its green head. As two-career couples increase as a percentage of the workforce, employers have had to compete harder to make them happy and to keep them from switching jobs. Especially medium-and large-size employers have generously doled out a whole new array of benefits designed to allow working parents to balance work and family life.

Those benefits can include providing childcare reimbursement or on-site childcare or time off to care for sick children. Such companies, according to this survey, offered these costly benefits to twice the number of parents in 1997 as they did in 1994- a mere three years! Lest, however, anyone goes off the deep end complaining about these perks, there are simple and logical ways to equalize corporate treatment of parents and non-parents. If parents get time off to care for sick children, childfree employees should get equal time off for other family emergencies: caring for an older relative, for example. If daycare for children is provided, why not do the same for eldercare? An employee of mine once asked for a half-day off to take his cat to the veterinarian.

Not that I don't like cats, but that struck me as a bit much and something that could easily be done in off hours or on a weekend.

Let me state for the record I am childfree by choice. But it pains me to see non-parents lining up in battle formation against parents. We have enough groups in our society competing against one another for fair treatment on the job: old versus young, men versus women, racial group versus racial group, and so on. Let's not create one more. This is one dispute that can easily be settled peacefully.

Bonnie Erbe, host of the PBS program "To the Contrary." Comment by clicking here.


© 2001, SHNS