Middle-class parents are working more, seeing their kids less and facing a lower standard of living than ever before.
On Tuesday during a visit to New Hampshire, Sen. Hillary Clinton (D., N.Y.) released a
policy plan aimed at helping families face the pressure. Her plan bolsters parents' ability to balance work and family and might appeal to her strongest constituency: women.
Clinton's plan calls for greater workplace flexibility for families. It expands access to leave by creating a federal fund for state expansion of family leave, expanding the Family Medical Leave Act to small businesses, ensuring access to sick days and empowering employees to ask for more flexibility without mandating that employers accept requests. Other goals include promoting model workplaces, improving childcare access and prohibiting parental discrimination based on pregnancy or family responsibilities.
The plan may stir controversy with Republican opponents in two ways. First, the plan poses possible government interference to businesses while creating additional bureaucratic hassles. Second, the plan is costly, to the tune of about $1.75 billion a year.
The Clinton campaign says work-family initiatives lead to higher morale, fewer sick days and greater productivity, which would benefit businesses. The plan wouldn't make changes mandatory, but it would encourage businesses to take action. Moreover, the costs are small and will be paid for by "establishing a uniform definition of a tax shelter." The plan continues, "This reform will help crack down on abusive tax transactions that have no economic purpose."
Not all of Clinton's initiatives have been received warmly. A few weeks ago she mentioned an idea for $5,000 "baby bonds" to pay for college tuition or a first home. The idea, designed to encourage saving, was widely panned because of its estimated cost of $20 billion to $25 billion.
Clinton dropped the idea and instead chose to offer a plan to support 401(k) savings incentives. Conservative blogs relished comments Clinton made to the Boston Globe last week about the change. "I have a million ideas," she said. "The country can't afford them all."
Clinton introduced the plan during a week her campaign calls "Women Changing America." She kicked off the week with an appearance on ABC's "The View" and will continue with a women's finance summit Wednesday and a discussion of women's health care in a presidential forum Thursday.
The plan builds on the
Family Medical Leave Act of 1993. This legislation was the first major victory of President Bill Clinton's administration. As first lady, Hillary Clinton also made important strides to help families, including the State Children's Health Insurance Program and the Adoption and Safe Families Act.
Clinton has steadily rolled out policies to help the middle class (health care, expanding college access, retirement savings) over the last few weeks. This working-family plan solidifies her support among the constituency that could carry her to the presidency: women.