Book Says Flexible Work Options Improve The Economy

Unless America is willing to endure double-digit unemployment levels and other fundamental economic problems, the U.S. should not emulate the work-family policies of Europe, according to a book published by the Employment Policy Foundation and the Society for Human Resource Management Foundation. In Paid Family Leave: At What Cost? economist Anita U. Hattiangadi examines the origins of European family leave policies and compares them to U.S. family and medical leave policy. Although many observers assume that European leave mandates are more generous than leave under U.S. law, the book disputes that assumption. European maternity and personal illness leaves usually offer lengthy leave periods with pay, but other types of leave -- i.e., leave for the care of a sick spouse or parent -- are often either unavailable or unpaid, and leaves in Europe are often subject to restrictions. In December 1999 President Clinton announced a proposal to allow the extension of unemployment insurance (UI) to workers who take leave during the first year after the birth or adoption of a child. Unlike European programs, which are funded through social insurance systems, the proposed U.S. program would be funded through UI -- a system funded entirely by employers' payroll taxes, meant for those who are unemployed but actively seeking employment. No European country puts the entire funding burden directly on employers -- in most cases, costs are shared by employees, employers, and the government. Aside from the substantial costs, such funded leaves could also undermine the current strength of the U.S. economy. In Europe, extensive leave and other mandates have stifled job creation, increased unemployment, and hindered economic growth. Unemployment in Europe is now twice the rate of the U.S. The author concludes that instead of mandating costly paid leave mandates, the continued expansion of workplace flexibility options -- flexible scheduling, compressed workweeks, telecommuting, and paid time off -- would better serve the needs of individuals balancing the dual demands of work and family. Currently, close to one-third of all full-time American workers have flexible work schedules -- a number that has nearly doubled since 1985.

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