Jean Stefancic


Every morning, newspapers bring reports of fresh disasters suffered by America’s workers. Intractable unemployment, outsourcing, temporary work, corporate bonuses and profit-taking, a business-oriented Supreme Court —all have taken a toll on workers of every class.

Joan Williams commendably wishes to change America’s shabby treatment of parents in the workplace. She believes that a new approach is in order, namely, that men of all classes, and middle- and working-class people in general, should join forces with professional-managerial-class women to change workplace leave policies. In her recent book, Reshaping the Work-Family Debate: Why Men and Class Matter, Williams explains obstacles that lie in the way of such reform and offers many suggestions to address family-workplace stress.

In this Essay, Stefancic focuses on some of the forces that exert a squeeze on the possibility for reform. From one direction, American capitalism’s quest for higher profits creates hostile workplace structures for workers. From another, the devaluation of children manifests itself as lack of sympathy for childbearing and child rearing. And from yet another locus, the different hopes, dreams, and aspirations of professional and other classes dims the prospects for a lasting coalition between them. These formidable obstacles, in turn, are a product of materialist economic factors at least as much as of cultural conflict and how people get along with or treat each other.

Stefancic’s viewpoint combines her long-time interest in how money influences political thinking and the possibilities for reform with her upbringing as a grandchild of immigrants and child of an immigrant father. Part I briefly outlines the intensification of U.S. corporate culture that has dominated the last four decades. Part II describes the United States as a child-unfriendly nation. Part III reflects on class differences. Part IV offers two suggestions—one broad, one narrow—for engaging in workplace reform.