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Opening Statement of U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander Children and Families Subcommittee Chairman Parents Raising Children: the Workplace

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Location: Washington, DC


Opening Statement of U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander Children and Families Subcommittee Chairman Parents Raising Children: the Workplace

This is another in a series of subcommittee hearings on the job of being a parent in America today.

During 2003 we held five hearings at Fort Campbell (on the Tennessee-Kentucky border), Fort Stewart (in Georgia), Offutt Air Force Base (in Nebraska), Groton Submarine Base (in Connecticut), and here in Washington, D.C. - focusing on support for military parents raising children. Among other subjects, we investigated child care, housing, pay and reciprocity among states on educational standards as ways of providing support for today's fighting men and women, more than half of whom are married and more than half of whom have children.

The job of being a parent is harder today. Families are broken, and parents are busier than ever before. Children are hurting and, as a result, so is our country. Perhaps the single greatest problem our country faces today is not terrorism, not jobs growth but the absence of parents in the lives of their own children. Committed loving parents who set a good example are the greatest gifts we can give to a child. But too often we have devalued the job of being a parent. Trash on television, the risk of drug and sexual abuse, higher taxes, the separation of marriage from parenting, unsafe streets, schools that don't educate - all of these make it harder for parents, especially low-income parents.

Our purpose in these hearings is to focus on ways that we can put the federal government back on the side of parents raising children. We have recently taken some steps in the right direction - increasing the child care tax credit, making it possible for parents to have more time at home with their children and increasing support for after-school programs to make it more likely that children have supervision while parents are away. But we can do better than that.

Today - which happens to be "Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day,"- we're going to be talking about making the workplace more "family friendly."

There has been no greater social change in American society during the last 35 years than the increase in the number of mothers working away from home. In 1960, 70 percent of families had one parent at home full-time. Today it is just the opposite. Fully 70 percent of families with children are now headed by two parents or a single parent who have a job away from home.

The workplace has been slow to respond to this new reality. The federal government has been slow to respond.

It wasn't always this way. During World War II, women went to work in the factories while the men went off to war. And the workplace bent over backwards to accommodate family needs with child care, grocery services at the worksite, as well as flexible work schedules.

Then the men came home from the war, and the women went back home too, and that was the end of employer interest in a "family friendly workplace."

Gradually this has been changing again, but not as rapidly as it needs to change.

We can't go back to the days of Ozzie and Harriet, but we can have a government that's on the side of parents raising children. And we can encourage employers to adapt and support the reality of working parents.

Together, we need to look for ways to support parents, not undermine them, in this very difficult, important work of raising their children in our world today.

During this hearing, we will look at the challenges working parents face today, how employers are responding to the family issues of their employees, and what the federal government can do to help both employers and employees, whether that is through legislation, policy, or regulations.

We will address some of the key issues that American businesses are focusing on to improve their employees' situations, such as flexible work schedules, early childhood education, the increasing need for eldercare and the unique needs of low-wage-earning families.

We are fortunate to have today some important new research on the condition of parents who have jobs away from home.

Our first panel will discuss "parents at work  their needs." On our first panel will be Ellen Galinksy, the President of Families and Work Institute, who will discuss the institute's new research on what makes an effective workplace and the status of flexibility in the workforce.

Next Karen Kornbluh will testify. Karen is Director of Work and Family Programs for the New America Foundation and will highlight the dramatically changing profile of American families and why flexibility in the workplace is an important issue.

Our second panel will discuss "parents at work  the employers' response." First we will hear from Donna Klein, President and CEO of Corporate Voices, a coalition of 45 of America's largest employers.

She will be followed by Zoila and Manuel Martinez, employees of the Marriott Corporation. They will give us an important perspective on workplace issues from the point-of-view of a lower-wage-earning family.

After the Martinezes, we will hear from representatives of two of America's largest and most respected companies, especially when it comes to responding to the needs of working parents - Joy Bunson, senior vice president of JP Morgan Chase, and Mike Shum, senior vice president of the IBM Corporation.

Our final witness will be Carol Evans, chief executive officer of Working Mother Media and publisher of Working Mother magazine, which is perhaps best known for its annual list of the "Top 100 Companies for Working Mothers." The list is now 18 years old and has served as a powerful incentive to encourage employers to become more "family-friendly."

I look forward to hearing from our witnesses.

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