Lawmakers Aim To Help People Balance Work, Family

By Jake Grovum

After years of focusing on Great Recession job losses, increasing economic inequality and a shrinking middle class, lawmakers in many states this year turned to a related front: trying to make life a little easier for Americans struggling to balance work and family obligations.

Their focus on issues such as paid leave, predictable shift scheduling and protections for pregnant workers reflects a sobering fact: Years after the recession ended, many Americans still do not feel economically secure. Many families fear that without safeguards, a medical emergency or family obligation that pulls them away from work could mean financial disaster.

“Families are really struggling, and part of the reason they can’t get ahead is they lack basic protections,” said Vicki Shabo of the National Partnership for Women & Families, an advocacy group in Washington, D.C. “The challenges they’re facing are not their individual problems to face, they’re not alone. These are challenges that really sweep the country.”

In June, Oregon became the fourth state to approve a paid sick leave law, joining California, Connecticut and Massachusetts.

The new law requires employers with 10 or more employees to give each worker five paid sick days a year. The law is designed to help low-wage workers, who are least likely to have the benefit and least able to afford losing even a single day’s pay.

In California, the state Assembly is mulling a bill, approved by the Senate in June, that would broaden that state’s paid family leave measure, which was the first of its kind in 2002 and led to similar laws in New Jersey and Rhode Island. This year, 18 other states considered paid family leave laws, which typically allow workers to take time off work to care for a newborn or ailing relative.

In 10 states, mostly dominated by Democrats, legislators have introduced measures to curb unpredictable, on-call shift scheduling, which can complicate the family lives of retail, restaurant and janitorial workers.

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