Worker Laws Need Updating to Address Modern Family


Some basic U.S. laws – especially the Social Security Act and the 1938 law enacting the minimum wage and the right to overtime pay – must be changed to account for different U.S. family structures, notably that most women now work, a top pro-worker economist says.

“American families used to have this silent partner,” the wife who stayed home to take care of the kids while the husband went to work, says Heather Boushey, a former top analyst at the Economic Policy Institute and now director of the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, a new think tank.

“So long as she was at home, businesses didn’t have to think about that,” Boushey added. Now with the U.S. workforce split virtually 50-50 by sex and with a majority of women working, they do, she added.

And the old two-parents-husband working-wife at home image is now a minority of U.S. families, she adds. Only 18 percent of U.S. families have a single breadwinner, and she’s often a single mom who lacks time to take care of her kids, Boushey notes.

 Boushey’s book, “Finding Time: The Economics Of Work-Life Conflict,” explores this new reality and its impact on working women and their families. But it also highlights how the New Deal-era labor legislation has not been changed to take account of those trends.

 The time crunch is a top problem for working women, along with unequal pay, according to a recent AFL-CIO survey of 23,215 working women. Equal pay for equal work was the top problem they cited, with 46 percent putting it first. But one-third of the working women toiled for more than 40 hours weekly, including one of every nine working over 50 hours per week.

 In addition, 32 percent of working women had unpredictable hours, 23 percent were forced to work mandatory overtime and 19 percent worked more than one job.

While the book lays out the new realities in detail, Boushey spent much of her talk on policy recommendations to cope with the new reality. Many of those will depend on state or national legislation – such as paid family leave, just hours laws, raising the minimum wage and equal pay for equal work.  Workers and their allies must campaign for those and elevate them to the top of the national discussion during the current election, Boushey added.