ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

Online Edition - August 2000
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Issue Highlight - Homeward Bound
--- Peter Block offers some practical reccomendations about how to create balance and harmony in your life.
     "
These recommendations are guaranteed to work or your time back."

In This Issue...
The Economics of Choice
Children: A Blessing or a Lucky Taxbreak
Welcome to the Wild West
The Struggle to Have It All


Features...
Peter Block Column
Interviews
Day In The Life Stories
Views for a Change

Pageturners
Heard on the Street
Letters to the Editor


Children: A Blessing or a Lucky Taxbreak?
With the Time Coworkers Devote to Cover for Parents with Children, Are the Childless Being Cheated?

-- During pregnancy, a working woman goes to the doctor regularly. The last month requires weekly visits, the last week, daily. Such visits may be inconvenient for the working mother-to-be, who's trying to get projects wrapped up, but they're also inconvenient for her colleagues. It is her colleagues who scramble in the office during her maternity leave, taking on additional work to compensate for a missing staff member.

   According to the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics, insurance for an individual costs medium and large private companies an average of $39.14 per month. Comparable insurance for a family averages $130.07.

   Parents receive a $500 per child tax credit, plus tax deductions for child care and higher education.

   In these ways and others, a parent benefits from corporate America and the government in ways that non-parents do not. Employers pay more to cover the health care costs of employees with children, and make no effort to counterbalance that cost to non-parents through extra bonuses or perks. When parents are on unpaid maternity or paternity leave, their colleagues pick up the slack. And adding insult to injury, a childless couple with the same income as a couple with two children will pay more in taxes annually.

Is It Fair?

   Targeted tax cuts and child-related privileges are hot issues for working Americans, especially the childless, who sometimes work longer and more inconvenient hours to accommodate those with children.

   Covering an extra meeting so a mother can care for her sick baby, or so a father can attend an after-school parent teacher conference, falls on the shoulders of those who don't have such obligations. Yet the extra hours aren't compensated, and non-parents are beginning to speak out.

    A recent book, "The Baby Boon: How Family-Friendly America Cheats the Childless," by Elinor Burkett, challenges the family-friendly agenda bolstered by the likes of Working Mother magazine and both sides of the aisle on Capitol Hill. Burkett, an award-winning journalist, has done her homework and lists an array of benefits middle-class families can milk for which the childless have nothing comparable.

   Burkett cites examples of onsite childcare and unpaid maternity leave not only as unfair, but as drains on the system. For example, in Georgia the $2.5 million Atlanta Inn for Children, a joint project by area hotels such as Marriott, Omni and Hyatt, is still waiting for full enrollment three years after opening. Working parents don't need corporate daycare, Burkett argues. They have other means of childcare support.
Unlike traditional feminists who support easing the burdens of working moms, Burkett compares the added workloads and unmatched perks of non-parents to the feminist equal pay struggles of the 1960s.

    " . . . A growing number of childless adults are declaring, 'Enough.' They are crying 'foul' over the extra hours heaped onto their schedules and filing complaints about employee benefit plans that reward fertility, rather than merit longevity."

Enough Is Enough

   Burkett's main tenet concerns how longer hours and parental benefits violate the Equal Pay Act of 1963. The Act established that workers should be rewarded for the time put into their work equally, regardless of gender. So if an employee is consistently skipping off to the pediatrician, Burkett argues, and receives more valuable benefits than a non-parent, that constitutes unequal pay for unequal work.

   The argument strikes a nerve, and would hardly be recommended cocktail party conversation. Since Baby Boon hit newsstands this spring, the Internet has been abuzz with heated debate. On the Web site Vault.com (www.vault.com) a single, working woman wrote, "I worked with a group where it became a practice not to allow anyone to take vacation time during Christmas week unless they were married with children... I have a family as do other single people-parents, brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews... Sounds like discrimination to me."

   Indeed, a backlash against parenthood in America may be lurking: One in four women born between 1956 and 1973 don't have kids, and 19 percent of marriages today are childless. Another proponent of Burkett's stance sees the questioning of family-friendly policies as a long time coming. It's "a wave that will return fairness and sense to America and get it off this baby trip it's been on for 20 or 30 years (www.fred.net/turtle/kids/ babyboon.html)."

The Other Side

    As with any good social discourse, there are compelling arguments on both sides. Critics have lambasted Burkett for making no mention of the costs of raising kids that tax breaks are meant to offset. Certainly the Hope Scholarship, a recent project of President Clinton's that allows for a $1,500 tax deduction for two years of higher education per child, is worth far less than the soaring costs of college tuition, but it's one of Burkett's pet peeves.

   Burkett's critics also point out that she's made no effort to address issues of zero population growth. This current debate over social security, addressing whether it will remain viable with a larger population supported by a smaller one's tax dollars, undermines Burkett's argument that there is no socially conscious aspect to having kids. And who will provide services to the current population as it ages? Another contributor to the Vault.com debate writes, "I presume [Burkett] won't mind if the five children I have raised object vociferously to paying taxes for her Social Security or Medicare... Who does she expect to provide her with medical care, fix her car, serve her meals at her favorite restaurant, draft her will, cut her hair?"

   Should American companies and our government support family-friendly working environments? The question cuts to the heart of our personal decisions and quickly leaps to the forefront of national concerns. If given cash bonuses instead of family insurance, and three months in the Caribbean instead of changing diapers, which would you chose? Maybe you'd wait a few more years, buy a fun car with those extra greenbacks, and get very comfortable... in the rare event you could get away from the office.

  August 2000 NFC Homepage

 

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