The Impact of Low Investment in Family-Friendly Policies

Compared to European countries, the United States has minimal investment in child care programs and maternity leave policies. All this means, that the U.S. has fewer women who stay in the workforce after they have children. That’s not news. What is news is that the percentage of prime aged women in the workforce has declined dramatically in the past few years. “After climbing for six decades, the percentage of women in the American work force peaked in 1999, at 74 percent for women between 25 and 54. It has fallen since, to 69 percent today.”

The sharpest drop in labor participation is among low skilled, unmarried mothers, but there has also been a dip in higher skilled, married women, too.

It’s hard to work when you have kids. Schools are not set up for working parents. Maternity leave policies are too short. Child care is insanely expensive. If a child has special needs, then the system is even more hostile.

There is no urgency to make reforms in an economy with a 16 percent unemployment rate for men. I think that we’re going to see a lot more small businesses and entrepreneurial work by the higher skilled women in the next decade. Lower skilled women are going to work in the shadows for extremely low wages. Sadly, they are lining up at my dad’s food pantry three hours before opening time in the cold.

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23 thoughts on “The Impact of Low Investment in Family-Friendly Policies

  1. “Schools are not set up for working parents.”

    If I may slightly riff off this point…

    I’m about to mount a campaign against our local school bus company, which apparently is not an unusual school bus company, if Google is to be believed, over this issue: bringing musical instruments on the school bus.

    I do not understand why my son cannot bring his sax to and from school on the school bus. We live about 6.5 miles from the middle school (long, thin shaped town). It’s about 15 minutes each way, given local traffic, to the school. It is even longer when you factor in the incredibly annoying traffic situation around the school and the ONE small, two-lane street to access the school parking lot. I can leave home at 3:10 and not be back home till almost 4 when I have to pick him up from Jazz Band practice, for example (that’s another issue–no more late buses, but the principal is working on that). I work, and my husband works. Picking up the kid at school is annoying, time-consuming, and detrimental to my work life (how many Monday meetings/events do I miss because I have to go pick him up at 3:30?). I pay for school buses. Why can’t my kid bring his instrument home on the bus?

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  2. My kid’s in the color guard that accompanies the marching band and she has a wooden rifle that she brings home to practice with. Guess what else is not allowed on the bus? Why am I not surprised?

    Previously I used to think things like this — and the musical instrument ban — were some kind of conspiracy to create elitist organizations within public schools. You don’t actually keep anyone out of the organization but you erect a lot of weird barriers that make it hard for people to come up with the resources, the time, etc. to support their kid’s participation. In our kid’s old school there were a group of moms who organized the school’s participation in the Lego competitions, etc. and they did a pretty effective job of keeping it exclusive — mandatory planning meetings at 11 AM on a Tuesday morning, requiring service hours during school hours, etc.

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    1. Interesting hypothesis. I think people don’t make the activity impossible on purpose, but through ignorance, like scheduling an activity on a significant holiday for another religion, and then, thinking “those people” must not want to participate in the activity anyway, because they don’t show up, so it’s all good. A newspaper article on the topic ends with a quote from a dad saying that he encouraged his daughter (who plays the trombone) to be the “Rosa Parks” of trombones on the school bus, but that she felt too uncomfortable and intimidated to take a stand. So, he’s driving her to school. But, we know other kids are just going to give up.

      The google search indicates that it’s the size of the instrument that matters — i.e. it must fit safely in the bus without blocking aisles etc, but then, the same article goes on to say that maybe some school bus drivers are targeting specific kids (i.e. someone misbehaved with their instrument/instrument case, and the consequence is forbidding instruments).

      Does Wendy’s district have a specific ban against saxophones (which seem like they’re in the middle-range, of being big, but not as big as trombones or bases)? Or has Wendy’s son just been told he can’t bring *his* saxophone?

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      1. FYI, it’s a ban on all instruments that don’t fit in backpacks.
        I am realizing that an easy solution is for there to be a small area on the bus for all instruments and anything else large, like sports equipment or projects. You can fit multiple instruments in the area of one seat, for example. It’s not like if you have 6 kids bring instruments on the bus, you lose 6 seats; 6 instruments could fit in the space for 2 kids.
        I have been busy most of the day and haven’t had much chance to Google, but it’s nice to know other parents elsewhere are upset about it. (Btw, I think Broward and Brevard counties may be in Florida.)

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    2. Yeah, I think that’s just a ploy to keep the band exclusive. My school district allows instruments on the buses, because otherwise there would be no school bands—there isn’t a critical mass of parents with flexible time to do the back-and-forth themselves (not to mention most of the major employers having a 7:00AM start time, which means those middle-schoolers are waiting for the bus after their parents are already at work. That’s why all the kids have cell phones—so their parents can text them to make sure they’re ok, and so the kids have a way of calling 911 if things aren’t ok).

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      1. Band is by its nature exclusive. One of my dream initiatives for Band Parents was to sponsor the renting of instruments for children in our district who couldn’t afford them, but unfortunately, my tenure in the Band Parents association has been focused on bake sales.*
        *Exaggeration. Really, I just don’t have enough energy.

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  3. Just shows how little I’ve thought about it — we could rent ($50/year) a school cello so that my son never did have to take his on the bus. Assumes those resources, huh? And all I thought about was, yes, one less thing for him to have to remember.

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  4. Thanks for your feedback on this, everyone. (And sorry, Laura, for hijacking.) I actually want to know what the good reasons for forbidding instruments on the buses are so I am prepared when I make my case with the bus company/transportation coordinator. I am also thinking of surveying the parents. As I am Band Parents secretary and have all their emails, this would be easy for me to do.

    Kris, I actually suggested to my husband that we rent a second sax so I could avoid making a second trip to the school, and he went ballistic at the idea, even though we could afford it. (The way you can afford things is by not spending on stuff you don’t need to, so I see his point.)

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  5. Wendy, I’m not shocked the school bus company takes that position (bus companies suck, they’ll make any policy they can get away with) but I am surprised that the school district allows them to.

    I agree that you should rally the parents and lobby the school to change companies or request that the bus company change the rule. If the transportation coordinator isn’t any help, you and other parents should lobby the school board to change companies. I hope it goes well – I know many of our school administrators were sympathetic to working parents and tried to avoid decisions that allowed their kids to be excluded from school-based activities because of it, despite a cohort of parents pushing for it.

    Over the years, my kids took a violin, sax and trumpet on the bus. I drove the cello player, simply because the instrument was large and the child was small, but older cellists took their instruments on the buses without a problem. The schools owned double basses, because nobody wants to move those things on a regular basis.

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    1. Our school district allows all instruments on the buses, though, like A, the basses stayed in school (As did the bari-saxes). Cello and tuba players have the option of either renting a second one to keep at home, but the school instrument doesn’t travel – you have to come in early or stay late to practice, if you don’t rent another one.

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  6. My google searches found a band instrument survey (where would Broward and Brevard Counties be?). I can’t find it again, but if you search for “band instrument survey” maybe you could find it? The responses to “does your district transport band instruments on school buses” ran from “No” to “Yes, musical instruments meeting the criteria established in the “Standard Operating Procedures Manual” distributed to all school administrators outlines the type of instruments that can be transported: Piccolo, Clarinet, Oboe, Trumpet(cornet), Trombone (Tenor), Violin, Viola, Flute, Alto Clarinet, English Horn, Flugel Horn, Alto Saxophone. Batons and drum sticks will be permitted in their proper cases only. In addition, tennis rackets with appropriate cases will be permitted. Items that are bulky that block the entrance ways, aisles or seats, or that deprive a student of a seat or that are too large for a student to hold in their laps or between their knees are NOT PERMITTED. ”

    Where did the cellists put their instruments on the bus when they were allowed? I can’t imagine trying to transport a cello on the bus, and in our school, kids who played cello played the schools’ cello at school. But, we didn’t have an award winning orchestra.

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    1. I see Tenor Sax isn’t on that list.
      The kids can bring anything that fits in their backpack, so S could always bring home her flute. And the Band Parents actually bought a bassoon so the kids who played wouldn’t have to bring it back and forth.
      I personally think the issues are probably as follows:
      1. The bus company would have to pay more insurance of they allowed instruments.
      2. The buses are so packed with kids that there is never an extra seat.
      The last year we were at our old house, the middle school bus was so packed that when a kid in a wheelchair moved up to 6th grade and a couple of bus seats had to be removed for a wheelchair lift, they had to move 2 kids onto different bus routes, including my kid.

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      1. One last point: I found the NHTSA Guidelines (dated 2009) for “pupil transportation safety,” and they say nothing about musical instruments. In fact, there is an item reading: “Baggage and other items transported in the passenger compartment should be stored and secured so that the aisles are kept clear and the door(s) and emergency exit(s) remain unobstructed at all times.” So basically, as long as the aisles, doors and exits are clear, there is no federal problem with instruments being brought onto the bus. I also just checked Massachusetts laws and found nothing prohibiting instruments on school buses. This is an insurance company issue, I am sure.

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  7. Jonah played a baritone trumpet for many years. It’s better for kids with braces than a regular trumpet. It’s almost the size of a tuba. Both school districts had a spare one for him to use at school, so he wouldn’t have to take it on the bus. Since he never practiced, we stopped renting one for home.

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  8. How big is a tenor sax, and where does it fit on the bus?

    I think that insurance, parental cluelessness, arbitrary school rules, targeting of particular students can all be reasons for rules that seem to not make sense. But, sometimes, the rules can have a reason, and if you know the reason, sometimes there can be a work around.

    Issues I could see from a bus driver’s point of view are the following:

    1) a kid swinging around an instrument, during bus loading and unloading in a way that interferes with bus function or other kids.
    2) instruments/backpacks being tossed into the aisle or the back of the bus
    3) instruments in seats, when there aren’t enough seats
    4) instruments blocking in the seat on the aisle (interfering with the window seat passengers’ ability to get out of her seat).

    the anonymouses are me, bj

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    1. I also assume all anonymice are you, bj. 🙂

      Backpacks can also be swung around and left in aisles (as you note) but we cannot ban those. The bus drivers deal with them.

      I was talking with the band teacher about something else and mentioned this new crusade of mine and she observed that the kids all brought their instruments on the bus with them when they went to perform at lunchtime at a local mall.

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      1. But, are the backpacks left in aisles? Schools do ban types of backpacks (i.e. rolling wheels). The federal regulations do says the aisles are supposed to be kept clear. And, of course, all this stuff blows up when something goes wrong.

        I think this kind of stuff is a balance between safety, behavior, and supervision. For example, in a band trip, it’s possible that there are 3+ teachers along, in addition to the driver, and the chaperones supervising the swinging of instrument cases and their safe storage. A bus driver might not have the time (or training?) to supervise the loading of the instruments and the children and also stay on schedule (which also presumably plays less of a role for the band trip to the mall).

        I think what’s concerning me (with talk of “crusades”) is that this seems to be another instance where one person (the bus driver in this case) has to deal with many mandates and individuals, with the ultimate responsibility (safety) falling on their shoulders.

        If the story is about parents purposefully trying to exclude a subgroup of more vulnerable kids (whose parents can’t drive their instruments to school) then it’s a crusade. But, if it’s a story about balancing competing needs on a school bus, it’s a negotiation, in which there might have to be a variety of compromises.

        Am taking this conversation more seriously than simply listening to a rant, because the issue of responsibility and rules is being debated in other conversations I’m participating in, too — like field trip rules and college title IX rules and Girl Scout rules and . . . .

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