The struggle for NH’s working families

Our workplace policies haven’t adjusted to meet the needs of a modern family

Double-income households are the norm these days. So I never second-guessed my family’s ability to thrive with children and two working parents here in Concord. I envisioned putting my master’s degree to good use, while my husband built a career in education. As a New Hampshire native, our state felt like the perfect place to raise our family and follow our professional pursuits.

Four beautiful children and years of jumping through the hoops of antiquated workplace policies later, I see just how broken our system is. New Hampshire’s workplace policies simply haven’t adjusted to meet the needs of a modern family.

Forty percent of our state’s workforce lacks access to earned sick leave they can use to care for themselves or a family member. Wages remain flat, while cost of living climbs. Child care assistance has decreased over the past decade – and more and more families are unable to pay the exorbitant costs of often unstable, unlicensed care. These issues are interconnected, and they are failing New Hampshire families.

I realized what a bumpy road child care, in particular, would be early on. Without paid maternity leave at my job, I needed care for my infants relatively quickly. Finding licensed, reliable care (putting aside affordability for a moment) was next to impossible. Thankfully, I worked for family-friendly organizations where I could bring my infants to work while they were small, but this is simply not an option in most professions.

Over the years, I’ve grown accustomed to a revolving door of child care options for my kids – because caregivers are also struggling to make ends meet and care for their own families, and often need to look for better opportunities to stay afloat. Sometimes our child care arrangements feel like a house of cards, causing stress for me and my husband and negatively impacting the development of our kids.

For parents of children with special needs, the child care costs and options are even more challenging.

We are the proud parents of a child who experiences cerebral palsy and epilepsy. My husband and I take turns putting our careers on the back burner to ensure we have someone to handle caregiving, therapies and seemingly endless doctor appointments. My husband took on the role of full-time caregiver for a few years, and now I work part-time while he juggles two jobs. I’ve now learned from a community of parents like us that this is a common trend.

Primarily women, but men as well, are being squeezed out of the workforce during the apex of their careers because reliable child care is out of reach. These are countless hours of productivity lost, potential economic growth stifled and bright career paths hindered – which is particularly devastating for women as we try to secure equality in the workplace.

The facts in New Hampshire suggest that we shouldn’t be surprised by hard-working families struggling to “do it all.” Half of New Hampshire towns don’t provide full-day kindergarten, and we have no publicly funded pre-K. These early years are the most critical for a child’s development, and yet, parents are scrambling to find high-quality, affordable care. From 2006 to 2013 alone, approximately 2,100 children in New Hampshire lost child care assistance.

In 2014, Congress reauthorized the Child Care and Development Block Grant, which is intended to ensure high-quality child care and make it easier for families to get and keep child care assistance. But the law has no guarantee of federal funds or state compliance. What’s a well-intentioned law without a commitment to implement in a way that actual helps families?

Today, my family spends a third of our monthly income on child care. We are certainly not alone. In a recent report, Judith Warner interviewed families like ours throughout the country. It turns out America’s child care system is in severe need of an update. We’re lagging behind other developed countries, and our families are paying the price.

Families in New Hampshire can also join a statewide effort to help create a family-friendly economy – to ensure that our state laws are reflecting the needs of today’s workforce. Learn more and get involved at familyfriendlyeconomy.org.

When New Hampshire families are able to provide for themselves and trust that our children are well cared for, we will be able to stay in the workforce and contribute to our growing economy. We won’t need to make impossible choices – like going to work sick or losing a critical portion of our paycheck.

I envision a future for my children where they won’t be faced with these decisions – because the policies in place will set them up for success. 

Sarah Lynn Sadowski of Concord is a community organizer for the NH Campaign for a Family-Friendly Economy and was featured in a recent report of the Center for American Progress.

Categories: Opinion