But Who Watches Out for Singles?

by Julianne Malveaux


The following is a summary of a commentary printed in the Los Angeles Times on Labor Day, September 4, 2000.  The author, Dr. Julianne Malveaux, is a syndicated columnist.

"Working families" are the buzzwords for Democratic strategists looking for a constituency.  Candidate Al Gore says he will fight for working families, and the hearts of harried moms, especially with those who juggle work schedules with the needs of their children, warm a bit.  Though working dads are rarely the thrust of conversation about working families, they may too feel that they get relief when their wives get attention.  That's the opening paragraph of Dr. Malveaux's commentary.

She asks, "Why are working families feeling so harried?"  Maybe part of the reason is that American workers spend too much time working.  The commentary compares our working hours and days with those of many European nations.  Dr. Malveaux suggests that working families could probably use more vacation time.

Dr. Malveaux then gets directly to the point:

"Working families aren't the only ones who think they need a break, and political strategists need to take notice.  Talk of working families leaves a key constituency -- working singles -- ignored.  Single people without children represent more than 20 million workers, but few address their needs.   In some workplaces, where the 'work and family' mantra dominates, singles feel a singular discrimination."

She then quotes a worker at a Fortune 500 company which gets high marks for its family focus:

"My co-workers say they need to leave early to pick their children up from school, and I'm expected to work an hour or so longer to accommodate them.  But none of them would work late so that I could go to the opera or to the doctor.  I'm all for juggling work and family, but we all have obligations and interests, and mine should count for as much as theirs do."

Dr. Malveaux stresses that most singles care about family issues and believe that employers should be flexible to meet the needs of working family members.  They just don't think they ought to be the ones to bear the burden of working families.  After all, they are single by choice, and they don't think they should have to pay for their choice by doing more in the workplace.

She notes that so many single workers favor "cafeteria" style benefits programs, which allow each worker to choose an array of benefits that best suits his or her family or personal needs.  A working mom might select employer-subsidized child care, while a single worker might choose a sabbatical or paid tuition as a benefit.

Of course, not all employers offer benefits -- which is another problem that politicians should address.  This shift to part-time or "temporary" workers, or the use of so-called independent contractors, is often a ploy used by companies to save money since such "independent" workers are excluded from health and other company benefits.

Dr. Malveaux concluded her commentary by saying:

"Advocates aren't lined up to fight for independent workers, just like they aren't lined up to fight for single workers.  But these workers need support just like working families do.  The candidate that can speak to these workers' needs, while at the same time satisfying the base of working families, will have addressed a constituency that has been heretofore ignored."


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