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To really support dads, Washington needs family wage-jobs and modern workplace standards

June 17, 2010

On Sunday, dads across Washington State will be celebrated at home as role models, breadwinners, caretakers, parents and more. Certainly a new set of power tools will show dad how much you appreciate him. But no gift can make up for the economic losses that Washington’s men (and their families) have experienced since the beginning of this decade.

Declining real wages and outdated workplace standards have made it more difficult for men to protect their family’s economic security. From 1999 to 2008, average monthly earnings for Washington men declined by about $266 per month in inflation adjusted dollars. This decline has been especially difficult for Washington’s single fathers.

But with more women in the workforce than ever before, shouldn’t families relying on two paychecks be better off? Not necessarily. Despite changes in workforce demographics over the past several decades, median household income in Washington State has actually been on the decline since 2006. And even with more women are in the workforce, gender-based wage disparities persist — with women bringing home just 63% of men’s wages per month.

Wages are just one important indicator of economic security. Fathers like Frank also know how crucial workplace benefits are in maintaining economic security for their family:

Frank

Frank, a single father to a 9-year-old son, never had to think about work benefits such as paid sick days when he was married. But now now that he has sole custody of his son, his perspective has changed.

“I never thought about paid sick days because I was married and my wife was always there to take care of our son. It was never an issue.”

Just leaving work early to pick up a sick child from school or taking time away from work to care for an ailing parent can create economic hardship for families living close to the edge. Workplace benefits allow all workers, not just parents, the flexibility to have a child, recover from an illness, or take care of a loved one without risking their job or wages.

In the case of paid sick days, workers are able to take time away from work to deal with the illness of a child, parent, loved one, or oneself. But in Washington state, more than 1 million workers don’t get paid if they are too sick to work.

Research indicates paid sick leave helps children recover more quickly from illness and results in shorter hospital stays, and also provides an economic boost to businesses. Unfortunately, just 41% of full time (and 14% of part time) Washington workers receive paid sick days — leaving dads like Frank the difficult choice between work and family when they or a loved one gets sick.

Sick days are important for short-term illness, but long-term medical issues or the birth/adoption of a new baby can sideline dad for weeks. The current Federal Medical Leave Act requires only unpaid leave and covers only 40% of Washington workers — rendering it virtually meaningless to families living close to the margins.

Washington Family Leave Insurance would provide paid time away for the birth or adoption of a new baby. While the state’s program was passed into law without a funding source (and so isn’t up and running yet), federal start-up funds could help get FLI the ground — and even expand it to cover care for a worker’s own serious medical condition or that of a loved one. Doing so would create a critical economic backstop for the thousands of Washington families that welcome a new baby into their home, or need time to deal with a serious medical issue.

Parenthood isn’t put on hold when dad walks out the door to go to work. Benefits that allow dad to take a paid sick day or for the birth of a child, without risking family economic security, keeps families, businesses and communities strong in Washington. So this Father’s Day, celebrate Dad for maintaining that balance between work and family — and don’t forget the gift!

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