State of the Union: Don't Lose the Family Amidst the Headlines
In listening to the political commentators prepare for the State of the Union Address tonight, most of them are telling the President that he must reframe the discussion, have courage, and focus on jobs, jobs, jobs.
I think that the President is doing something quite courageous that SADLY may be missed in the media dissection of, and public debate about the speech. If the messages being disseminated from the White House and from the Vice President's Task Force on Middle Income Families in the past days are true, the President will not only be focusing on jobs, but he will be focusing on what it takes to help working families work -- child care, assistance with college tuition, and elder care.
Over the past weeks, we have talked a lot about infrastructure, especially in the tragic aftermath of Haiti. Well, helping families cope with and pay for child care, college, and elder care are the infrastructures that makes work "work" or not, for millions of families. Yet, all too often these issues have been silent ones -- issues that families have had to face alone.
In my memory of listening to Presidential debates, speeches, and State of the Union addresses, it is the first time that I have any evidence that the President has truly been listening to us about what it takes to work today.
He must have heard the agony of families everywhere that have to select child care that they know is bad for their children, simply because they can't afford the cost of better care and they need a job. It was that agony that led me more than three decades ago to begin to work for better child care and despite all of the efforts of so many of us, much more needs to be done so that the 41% of the workforce with children don't have to choose between jobs and children.
The President must have heard our agony over college tuition in a nation where only six in ten high school graduates enroll in college, despite the fact that we all know that education is necessary for economic security.
And he must have heard our agony over elder care, where -- according to my organization's 2008 nationally representative study, the National Study of the Changing Workforce -- 43% of the U.S. labor force has taken regular care of a person over 65 in the past five years, and 51% of us (men and women alike) expect to. I know that agony all too well when our family took care of my mother who died just five years ago next month.
While the President has listened, my huge hope is that the media will listen to us too. Please don't lose the infrastructure issues of managing work and family when we talk about jobs and economic recovery. The First Lady has said that she would make work and family one of her priorities. In his speech tonight, the President is delivering on their family's promise to our families.
Ellen Galinsky is President of the Families and Work Institute and author of the forthcoming, Mind in the Making.
Crossposted from The Huffington Post.
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