As government services become more strained due to budget constraints it will be necessary for families to be able to live together longer and with more members in a household. This is already common amongst many immigrant groups, even those of higher incomes, but it will have to become a part of more and more peoples lives. This shouldn’t be considered a negative, not only will the trend relieve the government of the need to supply standards of living for individuals but it can strengthen the fabric of our society, if we do it right.
Doing it right will mean implementing policies that permit parents to take care of the their families and not just act as wage earners. Today amongst lower income families it is very difficult for parents to do things like attend school conferences or make sure their children eat right and get proper medical care, the stress of juggling bills that can never be current on their payments can bubble into marital problems or substance abuse.
For the past decades an idea has taken hold that labor markets are best left to their own functioning and that any tampering with them creates costs which ultimately hurt job creation, wages and benefits are best assigned by market, but this ignores history. The industrial revolution created productivity gains which allowed there to be more wealth which could be shared with labor, but really these productivity gains started in earnest after the civil war, still it wasn’t until the advent of unions in the 20th century that labor standards started to improve. This wasn’t just because of the work of unions it was also because firms saw the benefits to profitability from some of the improvements and knew that if they improved their working conditions then the was less of a chance that their workers would also unionize. Then labor saw the institutionalizing of reforms take off during world war II, through the following years more laws were passed which improved the lot of labor. (Osterman, Shulman).
So it is clear that despite labors assistance in creating wealth it wasn’t until pressure and policy were applied that business allowed the improvement in labor standards. There is then ample reason to believe that if we are to strengthen families we must enact policies which allow lower income households to not put all their energy into simple survival. There will be an economic cost to this, of course, but the benefits will far outweigh the costs, lower incidence of diabetes, improved educational performance, the good chance that crime rates will be lower, and a lower reliance on government programs will be benefits that ripple throughout our economy. In a time of lower employment it becomes even more important that the jobs which are available are good jobs so that those wage earners which are in families can supply stability was well as income.