– By Amy Spekhardt Currently the American workforce is facing some truly crushing realities. The cost of living is constantly increasing compared to the stagnate availability of jobs and resources. The young American graduate is presently facing one of …

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– By Amy Spekhardt

Currently the American workforce is facing some truly crushing realities. The cost of living is constantly increasing compared to the stagnate availability of jobs and resources. The young American graduate is presently facing one of the bleakest job markets in modern American history. After nearly 5 years in a deep recession, a bachelors degree cannot guarantee employment and a graduate degree is almost mandatory for an entry level position. This harsh reality is even more crippling by the constant looming question at the back of many young women’s minds of, “How am I going to balance having a career and having a family?”

The decision between motherhood and a career has always been a hot button issue for working women. It was currently revisited in The New York Times The Opt-Out Generation Wants Back In, by Judith Warner, an update to their controversial 2003 article The Opt-Out Revolution by Lisa Belkin. The original 2003 article focuses on women with advanced degrees from prestigious American university leaving the workforce to become full-time caregivers to their children. The Opt-Out Generation Wants Back In revisits these women and sees how their decision to leave the workforce affected their lives. These articles raise many more questions about the state of the American workplace instead of providing answers to the timeless dilemmas facing working mothers and fathers.

The overwhelming response to both articles by women was that women, and especially women in management and high powered positions, need to continue breaking down barriers, disproving stereotypes and leading the way for future generations to excel in the workplace. This was especially personified in the fact that even though the gender gap between men and women in graduate programs and entry positions are almost identical, women account for a fraction of the business and workforce leaders. Additionally, American women are making 77 cents to every $1 that men are making.

Some women interviewed for the original article in 2003 stated that they were fulfilling the feminist ideologies of the past by being able to make the choice to be a full time caregiver to their children. Yet this reasoning seems disproportionate to the realities that many women are facing in their workplace. The option of “Opting Out” can be accounted as one of the very few improvements women have achieved in the workplace.

The main struggle of working women articulated in both articles was their inability “to do it all.” Many women felt that they had to choose between their careers and their family since flexible work options were unavailable. The option to work from home or part time was not available in 2003 and in 2013 is still unavailable. One striking example in the 2013 article was an attorney who was technically working part-time at a law firm. However, she was working past her agreed upon 10-4pm schedule which included staying at her office till 4am to finish a project. She could rarely adhered to her part time hours due to the amount of work she was given by her employer. Another woman working part time stated that all of her out of office meetings were scheduled on the days she was suppose to work from home. In light of these examples, it seems that women may not be “opting out” but are being forced out.

Additionally the lack of maternal support is contributing to more women making the choice to “opt out” of the workforce. There is a shocking lack of resources for workers after they have a child. Presently in the United States, the only regulation on family leave is from the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 which mandates an unpaid 12 week leave. Yet this regulation only applies to companies that comprise of more than 50 employees within a 75 mile radius and the individual has worked 1,250 hours over the past 12 months. The United States joins only Liberia, Papua New Guinea and Swaziland as the only countries in the world that do not offer paid leave for parents. The absence of a paid family leave leaves many families to face a harsh financial burden after having a child that causes many mothers to go back to work before they feel able to.

Many men are also facing the harsh realities of being a working parent. The recession in the United States has put increased pressure on men to continue their so-called traditional familial roles as the main financial earner. However, this attitude and mindset is beginning to change. In the current 2013 article, it was mentioned that men were jealous that their wives were home everyday with their children and that they were tired of being “just a paycheck.” More men want to redefine their societal roles by being both a financial provider and a caregiver but currently lack the ability to do so. Reforming the workplace should be the top priority of workers in the United States because without it Americans will always being choosing whether to have a family or have a career.

The greatest lesson from these two articles is the fact that in the last 10 years the American workplace has not changed. Women are unable to find flexible work options while men are expected to sacrifice their family life for their employer. Most importantly after 20 years the United States has not reformed its family leave legislation. American workers need their personal obligations and their right to a family to be respected by employers. The American workforce needs to redefine what is and is not acceptable for employers to demand so families and relationship are no longer sacrificed.

Also read this excellent article about the need to stop talking about women opting-in or out by Rebekah Kuschmider.

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