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‘The silver lining of covid’ is ‘the fact that we are re-thinking work’: Pamela Stone on the hybrid work models

Pamela Stone, a sociology professor at Hunter College, joins Yahoo Finance’s Sibile Marcellus and Jen Rogers to discuss the impact of coronavirus on the nuclear family, particularly women, and the impact of Biden administration’s child tax credit.

Video Transcript

[MUSIC PLAYING]

SIBILE MARCELLUS: Welcome to "A Time for Change." I'm Sibile Marcellus here with Jen Rogers. It's been a full year since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. For working mothers, it's been a full year since their worlds blew up. That's our focus today, working mothers.

This past year has been so brutal for so many of them. And most children are still not back in school full-time. Jen, I know you've got three kids. You know what it's like.

JEN ROGERS: I mean, it's crazy that it's been a year. I think that we all recognize this has been hard on so many people, not just working moms. But certainly, many of them around the country have paid a heavy price. And good news, though, Sibile, it looks like some help is coming, help from the federal government, to be specific, could be on the way. This is all part of Biden's $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan.

Families under this stand to receive a $3,000 tax credit per child, more for kids under 6. The Senate has already passed the bill. The House is expected to vote on it Wednesday and then send it to President Biden's desk.

The measure has really reignited the debate about what working mothers need at home and also in the workplace, which eventually, I guess, we're going back to. Our first guest is sociologist-- and she has spent her career studying working women and working moms in particular. Professor Pamela Stone, welcome.

I really want to start right now with-- you had said to us that being a working mom during COVID-19 is like the second shift on steroids. Look, we all know it was a really hard year. I want to look forward a little because sometimes when you're in the crisis, you just do it. But what's going to happen next year? Is it getting easier, or are we actually still going to be in the throes of figuring out how working women survive in this new normal?

PAMELA STONE: Well, I think we're still going to be in the throes. But let me say, it's great to be here. But I think we're going to be in the throws. We've been in those throws for a very long time. So I don't think that we're going to have an instant overnight solution when we go back, even without having to deal with COVID. But I think COVID provides a lot of opportunities as well as downside. So we could talk a little bit about that if you like.

SIBILE MARCELLUS: Well, Biden's $1.9 trillion stimulus plan, it includes an expansion of the child tax credit. Now, it's being framed as guaranteed income for families. Do you view that as a revolutionary policy that could help working parents, working mothers?

PAMELA STONE: Absolutely, yeah. I think it's definitely the case that a lot of that money for low-income and middle-income parents is going to be going to child care, for example, to support women's, in particular, going back to work. I think this is a critical piece of legislation. I think anything that provides and supports child care, for example, is critical. And I think that Biden should be applauded for doing this and for targeting, in particular, the people who need it the most, the middle and low-income as opposed to the upper tier of earners.

SIBILE MARCELLUS: I like that you focused on low-income families because specifically, this child credit extension would apply to people who usually don't qualify, so parents earning $2,500 or less annually. So what kind of difference do you think this is going to make?

PAMELA STONE: Well, I think it'll make it worthwhile to go work. For earner's on that level, it literally costs more for them to work than they can earn. So I think that this will help them get over that hurdle and make work worth it.

JEN ROGERS: Talking about making work worth it, so much comes from working, for people's sense of worth, for getting out of the house, getting away from your children. We're talking about some of the ways that money is going to help solve this problem. But whether it's tax credits or UBI or childhood education, is this actually something that money can solve, or is it more structural in nature?

PAMELA STONE: It's both. The US is the only country in the world that, for example, does not have paid family leave. That leaves a whole sort of solving of the work-family dilemma up to individuals, usually women.

So with money, you can have resources to purchase, for example, child care. But we also are going to need structural change. We have a workplace that is really devised around working men that assumes a full-time caregiver, wife and mother at home. And that's not the way the workplace is and has been for a long time.

So I think we have to have sort of a two-pronged attack. We have to, in a sense, invest money through public policy in things like child care, paid leave, and the like. And that's another priority, as I understand it, of Biden's, passing a paid family leave bill. I think that's critically important.

But we also have to have institutional change. And some of that can come about through legislation, through policy. But some of that comes about through employers making changes. We were talking earlier about the COVID situation and what do I see happening after COVID. Well, I think I and many other people have seen the silver lining of the COVID. It's not much of a silver lining. I don't overdo this in a tough time.

But the fact that we are rethinking work-- employees have a chance to demonstrate that they can be productive, they can be committed working at home. And this is especially helpful to working families, to have that flexibility. To move in and out between family responsibilities and work responsibilities is critically important.

I will tell you that there is tons of research showing that if you give workers more control over their schedule, if you give them more flexibility, employers will see a real dividend. It enhances productivity. It enhances retention. There are all sorts of pluses. But employers have been very loath to implement these kinds of flexible work policies, to rethink the way we work. But they've had to.

The threat of life and death of COVID has forced them to rethink work. And they're finding, I think, that it's working much better than they had ever anticipated. So clearly, I believe when we go back to work, we're going to go back to, at a minimum, a hybrid model of work because this pandemic has really allowed us to do kind of a natural experiment, rethinking how we work. And that's the structural stuff that I think we really need to support working families.

JEN ROGERS: When you talk about the silver lining-- and I do think, at least initially, a lot of people felt that, being home with their kids, being able to work from home and not commute. Now that it's been going on a year though, I feel like you hear more about this always on. It's Slack constantly coming at you during the weekends, at night. It's email. It's the Zoom fatigue.

So all of that, now it's like we've entered a new era. And people kind of like some of it, but there's other parts that they want to get away from. Do you think employers are going to be responsive to that? Or is that on women to set these boundaries? How do we get out of this always on?

PAMELA STONE: Yeah. Well, unfortunately, I do think women have to be proactive. There's no question that women, as the ones who really bear the burden of the second shift and of the work at home, are the ones who are more likely to be engaged and want these flexible work arrangements. But absolutely, I think that you're right about there are downsides. But that's all part of the experiment, right?

In other words, what happens when you try these things out in a sustained fashion is you understand the good things, and you understand the downsides. So absolutely, I think one of the things we're seeing is that so many people are reporting they're working more hours at home than they did at work. Obviously, we don't want that. But I think that what we need to do is a critical analysis of this experiment and make sure that when we redesign and go into a more hybrid workplace, that we counteract and we head off and we work around some of the downsides.

And let me say, by the way, we don't want to go back to a situation where the only workers, for example, working at home are women. We know that would end up stigmatizing them. There'd be penalties to that. So we have a lot of challenges when you go back to work to take advantage of this experience that we've had working flexibly, working out of the box, and incorporate both the good and the bad of it. Tweak the bad, fix the bad.

SIBILE MARCELLUS: Yeah, I totally agree. Let's fix the bad. Pamela Stone, it's great to have you on. Thanks so much. Pamela Stone, professor of sociology at Hunter College and Graduate Center, City University of New York, and author of the books "Opting Out" and "Opting Back In." Thank you.