Heather Boushey’s Finding Time: The Economics of Work-Life Conflict is a study of changing patterns of work in America and the pressures that longer hours place on families and individuals. Boushey dedicated the book to “all those too busy to read this book, in the hope that it reaches those with the power to find and return our lost time.” Having just been named chief economist for Hillary Clinton’s transition planning team, Boushey’s own access to that power seems on the rise. That’s good news for American families.
Boushey’s work both in Finding Time and as Executive Director and Chief Economist at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth is about taking work-family policy off the Style pages and into the realm of serious economic issues. In fact, she hates the term “work-family policy,” which brings to mind working mothers and child care. “Compared with traditional male issues,” she writes, “work-family policy doesn’t sound serious. It sounds like something that should take a backseat to real economic matters. As a result, politicians tend to trot out their positions on work-family issues when courting female voters ahead of elections, only to forget them after the victory lap.”
It’s this very dynamic that results in scenes like Ivanka Trump delivering a Republican National Convention speech touting her father’s commitment to providing relief for working families in terms no one could recall ever hearing from the candidate himself.
In contrast, Boushey shows that the kinds of policy changes she recommends—all currently in place in various parts of the country—are crucial to America’s economic well-being.
Researchers studying the kinds of policies that families and households need to make ends meet, and in turn what businesses need from their employees, have some surprising findings to share. Across a range of different social science traditions, methods, and topics, they find that addressing sources of anxiety inside the home has a profound impact on what happens outside the home, including in the larger economy, and can affect the current and future competitiveness of American firms and workers. That’s why I prefer the term work-life policies. This phrase reminds us of the intimate connection between the hours we clock for a job and the off-the-job hours that support strong families and a strong economy.
Finding Time is focused on core economic questions: If we sought to alleviate family economic insecurity today, what would our agenda look like? Would our efforts be good or bad for the economy overall? Rather than submitting to the bog of partisan squabbles over “handouts,” Boushey urges us to think about how keeping people gainfully employed while they care for their families benefits the economy overall. It’s in that vein that she presents solutions to everyday economic problems facing workers across four areas: Here (at home), There (at work), Care, and Fair.