Work-life squeeze political issue

By Fleur MacQueen Smith, The StarPhoenix October 29, 2011

Macqueen Smith is with the Healthy Children research team at the Saskatchewan Population Health and Evaluation Research Unit.

The team collaborated with researchers at the University of British Columbia to release the report card, Does Canada Work for All Generations. Visit for the Saskatchewan-specific report.

Canadian parents today are raising families with less money and time than did the Baby Boomer generation, even though Canada’s economy has doubled in size since 1976, was the finding of our study, released Oct. 18 in Saskatoon.

Paul Kershaw, a public policy professor at the University of British Columbia and the study’s lead author, coined a new term for our generation: “squeezed.”

In 1976, about half of the women aged 25-44 who were raising young children were also in the workforce.

Today, it’s 85 per cent of us. That’s 65 per cent more women working today than 35 years ago.

Men’s levels have stayed the same.

We are squeezed for time, because more time in the workforce means less time at home.

We aren’t working more just to buy the latest cellphones, as some seem to think. We are working more because we need to.

Today, it takes more people working more hours to earn the same kinds of incomes that families did in 1976. In the last 35 years, average family income in Saskatchewan has only risen six per cent.

Why so little? Housing is a major factor. In 1976, the average family house in Saskatchewan cost $145,000 in today’s dollars – a bit more than twice the average family’s income. Now it costs you $245,000, or four times the average income.

That’s an increase of 68 per cent. We are squeezed for income due to the high cost of housing.

Finally, we are squeezed for services such as child care to help us balance working with raising a family. This squeeze is particularly bad in Saskatchewan, where we have enough regulated child care spaces for only one in five children under age six. When you take out pre-kindergarten and preschool, which don’t cover the full employment day, this drops to one in 10 children.

The provincial government has increased child-care spaces considerably in the past few years, and spaces are part of several election platforms. While this is a great start, we must be realistic. There’s a long way to go before high-quality child care is as accessible as school.

What’s the solution for Generation Squeezed? The study proposes three policy changes under a “new deal for families.” First, benefits for new moms and dads so that all parents, including those self-employed, can have time at home with their children until they are at least 18 months old.

After that, $10-a-day, high quality child-care services so we can afford enough employment time to manage the rising cost of housing and stalled household incomes. Finally, flextime for employees and employers, to fix workplace standards that too often ignore families.

Taken together, these changes address the time, income, and service squeezes we face. And this isn’t just an issue for parents of little kids like me.

This squeeze costs us all. The study reports that the Canadian business community takes a $4 billion hit annually because worklife conflict for parents of preschool children results in higher absenteeism, employee health insurance premiums, and recruitment costs. It also contributes to rising societal costs: crime, poverty, education and health care.

The report’s launch was picked up by media across the country, and covered in the New York Times’s widely read Motherlode parenting blog. As of Oct.

24, the Globe and Mail story had 765 comments, 644 recommendations, and was tweeted 174 times which, I believe, shows that these ideas resonate with many of us.

As we head to the polls, it’s time to start a public conversation about moving from a bad deal to a new deal for families. Talk to your friends, talk to your parents, and talk to your political candidates. Blog, Facebook or tweet about it (we’re using the hashtag #gensqueezed). Write on our “I’m feeling squeezed” Facebook wall, visit, or drop by Kershaw’s blog at

I’ll leave the last word to Kershaw: “We need to care less about who is being voted off some island on TV, and more about who is being voted into our legislatures.”

I love Survivor, but his comment is right on. Let’s get to it.

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