Wisconsin U.S. Rep., Paul Ryan, recently refused to stand for election to the position of Speaker of the United States House of Representatives without a guarantee that his current work-life balance, including the time he spends with his three children, would remain intact. In making this demand, Ryan unwittingly threw a spotlight on ways in which many of his party’s conservative policies make striking a balance between work and family time increasingly difficult for ordinary Americans. For many, Ryan’s recent statements regarding his “family time” are evidence of a double standard in which deep cuts to services that support working families are championed by politicians who are disconnected from their effects. Five areas in particular highlight the challenges working families face due to policies that are unfriendly to U.S. families in general and especially to those with lower incomes.
First, and perhaps the most well-known example of the lack of support provided to American families is that the United States is the only country in the world that does not guarantee workers any amount of paid family leave and only 12 weeks of unpaid family leave are available at all. Because of this, a quarter of new mothers are back at work within two weeks of giving birth. In addition, while many European nations require that paid paternal leave be provided, there is no such requirement in the United States.
Paul Ryan’s commitment to his family requires that he take weekends off from work but for most Americans, especially those in low-wage jobs, there is little or no flexibility regarding time off. This differs from most countries in which a minimum of 24 hours of rest is mandated for workers. Another concern for these families is the high cost of childcare which makes working long hours with little flexibility especially challenging.
Lastly, it is important to note that the United States is in last place compared with the rest of the world in terms of time off for new parents as protected by law. While many countries offer over 150 weeks of family leave, including some paid and unpaid time and many more offer at least 50 weeks, the United States is alone with its requirement of only 12 weeks of unpaid leave.
When viewed with regard to these facts, Rep. Ryan’s concern for his own job’s flexibility is seen by many as evidence of hypocrisy and a commitment to values in his own life that he has not proven willing to advocate for on behalf of his constituents.