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Can Family Court Adjust to Economic Realities

Posted Aug 23 2008 11:00pm

It’s widely assumed that moms who stay home do so by choice. However, the facts say otherwise. This week, “Equality in Job Loss: Women are Increasingly Vulnerable to Layoffs During Recessions,” a joint economic report commissioned by NY Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney states categorically that women—mothers and singles--are leaving the workforce because they’re being forced out. Beginning with the 2001 recession, hiring rates continue to lag and haven’t returned to the peak experienced during the1990s.

“Women may be more susceptible to the impact of the business cycle than they were when they were more highly concentrated in a smaller number of non-cyclical occupations, like teaching and nursing,” the governmental report states. “There is no evidence, however, that mothers are increasingly ‘opting out’ of employment in favor of full-time motherhood. For this story to be true, the employment rate of non-mothers would have had to diverge sharply from that of mothers, which has not been the case.”

It is the cost and inadequacy of childcare that keeps many women home. That, and an inflexible, family-unforgiving workplace. Unlike past decades, families can no longer rely on the woman’s employment to help boost family income during a downturn, according to the report. Decades of upward mobility have been reversed by a weak economy that too readily embraces the young who get entry level salaries and are unencumbered, making 9-12 uninterrupted hours of work feasible and expected.

As further proof, Heather Boushey, a senior economist at the Joint Economic Committee of Congress, published data while at the Center for Economic and Policy Research in 2005, suggesting that ‘the main reasons for declining labor force participation rates among women over the last four years appears to be the weakness of the labor market.’

And, yet, women who are facing divorce are expected to work, usually full-time. The economic realities are ignored, supplanted by denial and puffery about equality. It's time for a social and cultural adjustment, a parental responsibility realignment of sorts, that recognizes the real economic costs of raising children in these challenging times. Men and women are not equal--not in earnings; not in child care and domestic responsibilities; and, not in job opportunities. A wonderful exploration of these trends is articulately addressed in the New York Times opinion blog, Domestic Disturbances , hosted by Judy Warner.

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