Blame our public policy, which hasn't kept up with the massive changes in American family structure.

As I wrote in The Atlantic in 2003, the traditional family—one breadwinner and one homemaker—has been replaced by the "juggler family" with either two working parents or a single parent who works.

Nine years later, the nation no longer clings quite so tightly to the ideal of the 1950s family, but policies and practices lag behind. The U.S. is the only OECD country without paid maternity leave; a parent's job isn't protected if he or she takes a day off to care for a sick child; and the U.S. still lacks affordable, high-quality child care. This could all change in Obama's second term: He has said he's committed to working with states on paid family leave, supports legislation to provide paid sick days, and has invested in grants to states to raise standards in their early learning programs while also supporting expansion of he Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit.

One big improvement since 2003: In the Atlantic article I pointed out that mandatory, universal health care coverage would be the best gift to parents seeking flexibility and security because it would allow those with flexible schedules or in less standard jobs access to affordable health care for themselves and their families.

Over one-quarter of US children lives with a single parent, the highest proportion among developed countries:

Percent of Children age 0-14 in Single-Parent Households, 2010
kornbluh_singleparent.jpg

Single-parent families are significantly more likely to live in poverty across the OECD. The U.S., with among the highest rates of child poverty across the OECD, also has among the top three single-parent household poverty rates—at just under 50 percent, behind only Luxembourg and Japan:

Poverty rates by household type, 2008
kornbluh_singleparentpov.jpg

Our lack of quality childcare and after-school programs puts these kids at risk and endangers the nation's future in a knowledge economy. Our lack of support for flexible work arrangements and Social Security credits for caregivers puts these parents at risk. However, there is good news: health care reform will be an enormous help to these families. They are raising our future citizens and building our productive assets at great cost to themselves and with little help from the rest of us.

This post originally appeared on The Atlantic.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. Maps

    Build Your Own NYC Subway

    A new game lets players and transit wonks tailor the city’s extensive but imperfect system to their needs—or overhaul it completely.

  2. Design

    Why Race Matters in Planning Public Parks

    A major overhaul of a huge Houston park reveals disparities in what white, black, and Latino residents want—and need.

  3. Equity

    What's the Matter With San Francisco?

    The city’s devastating affordability crisis has an unlikely villain—its famed progressive politics.

  4. Life

    How Australia Conquered Guns, and Why America Can't

    Gun control advocates point to Australia for inspiration in ending gun violence. The Australian Ambassador to the United States, Joe Hockey, thinks they should stop.

  5. Equity

    The Bleeding of Chicago

    America’s third-largest city has built one of the world’s best trauma care systems. But that success might be obscuring the true scale of its gun violence.