Flexible work: Twenty years of progress lost

In July, a Congressional committee, the Joint Economic Committee, heard from work-home experts about the disappearance of flexible work arrangements – a hazard of the economic recession. Cynthia Thomas Calvert, deputy director of the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California said callers to the center “unanimously expressed their needs for flexibility and feelings of near desperation at facing unemployment because of their inability to work a standard schedule.” Calvert went on to say that employers may be using the recession as an excuse to terminate family caregivers. Between January 2008 and July 2009, the center had heard from 45 women who were fired shortly before, during or shortly after their pregnancies. In many cases, supervisors had expressed doubt about their ability to combine work and family.

Thirty percent of working moms, whose companies have had layoffs in the past 12 months, are working longer hours, according to CareerBuilder’s annual Mother’s Day survey taken in 2009. Fourteen percent or working moms had taken on second jobs in the past year.

In good times, workers frequently seized the opportunity to use “flex time” and family leave, to telecommute and to take paid sick days. But the recession has brought with it a "silent fright" among workers, Joanne Brundage told the Washington Post in March. The executive director of a mothers’ networking group, Mothers & More, Brundage said the current mindset is to "work as many hours as you can. Make yourself indispensable. Don’t ever complain. Don’t ever ask for anything. I’m just horrified. We may as well just forget the last 20 years.”