All In: A Book Review

All In: A Book Review

By Hilary Levey Friedman

All In Cover ArtBy now you’ve almost certainly heard of Lean In. Josh Levs is hoping you will see similarities between his recently released All In and Sheryl Sandberg’s bestseller.

The similarities go beyond the titles. Both books deal with changing the challenging culture for working parents. While All In and Lean In emphasize that work/family balance is an issue for both sexes, the former concentrates on men and the latter on women.

Levs writes from experience as a devoted father of three who also covers family and fatherhood for CNN. In 2013, around the birth of his third child, he asked CNN’s parent company, Time Warner, about his benefits. Specifically Levs wanted to take the ten paid weeks new parents have as an option. But he discovered that those ten weeks apply to biological mothers, adoptive mothers, and adoptive fathers—but apparently not to biological fathers. After speaking with Human Resources, and even the CEO, Benefits ultimately denied his appeal of this policy. Levs consulted lawyers and took his fight public, using his own personal media bully pulpit to get the word out. While in the end he went back to work without the ten paid weeks, Levs came to be seen, and see himself, as a leader in the active fathers’ movement of the 21st century.

All In: How Our Work-First Culture Fails Dads, Families, and Businesses—And How We Can Fix It Together is the culmination of his research, reporting, and ruminations on this issue. Levs brings together and discusses the most up-to-date research on fatherhood while also proposing practical and policy solutions. In the Introduction he makes it clear that this isn’t “just” a problem for fathers or mothers: “Overall parents in the United States are working hard and doing their best. It’s the era of all-in parenting. And, by and large, neither gender is letting the other down.” Levs believes that poor family leave policies discriminate against both men and women by taking choices away.

All In isn’t only about paid family leave, but it is a big part of the book, and its strongest. In Part I he discusses the legal components of the Family and Medical Leave Act, business implications, and tax policy. For instance, from this I learned that many employers use disability insurance to pay birth moms. While Levs started this project seeking support for paternity leave he didn’t have strong feelings about paid family leave, but after everything he has learned he now believes that paid family-leave law would make a significant difference.

Another strength of All In is its focus on popular culture. Unlike others who write on this issue Levs devotes a whole section of his book to “Fixing Pop Culture,” explaining, “Any time I’ve interviewed fathers over the years, frustration about portrayals of dads in pop culture has gotten them fired up above all else.” The discussion here focuses on advertising snafus by companies like Huggies, the TV show Friday Night Lights, and mom’s-only groups.

Levs also tries to move beyond the upper-middle and middle class parenting experience (incidentally one of the criticisms of Sandberg’s Lean In is the focus on affluent families) to include a variety of families and family structures. He writes about fathers in prison, military dads, widowers, and he strives to include stories of poor fathers and black fathers as well. While his aim is admirable, at times these sections of the book strike a false note, especially in contrast to other portions where Levs is writing more from personal experience so his voice is stronger and more authoritative.

All In is definitely a book with a specific message and every page is meant to remind us of that message—that millions of (working) dads want to spend more time with their kids but in some way society is boxing them in. Levs sometimes present alternative viewpoints or explanations but it’s clear by the length of those sections that they are not the main focus. All In will most definitely appeal to those sympathetic to its argument, but I’m unfortunately not convinced it will change others’ minds (and I say unfortunately because my own husband is an involved father and I know how much that means to our household).

Levs’ goal is to start a movement much like Sheryl Sandberg. While the impact of All In may not be as deep, the book will give you something to think about and some facts to share with others whether you are all in or just leaning in to working parenthood.

Hilary Levey Friedman, PhD is the Book Review Editor at Brain, Child and the author of Playing to Win: Raising Children in a Competitive Culture. She teaches in the Department of American Studies at Brown University.

Buy All In: How Our Work-First Culture Fails Dads, Families, and Businesses–And How We Can Fix It Together

Paid Family Leave: An Elusive Option for Many U.S. Workers

Paid Family Leave: An Elusive Option for Many U.S. Workers

By Susan Buttenwieser

130874531The United States is one of only three countries in the world without a paid maternity leave law. The other two? Papua New Guinea and Oman. Workers in many other countries can also count on receiving paid paternity leave, elder care benefits and generous paid sick leave.

Meanwhile, the only federal legislation that American workers have is the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which allows employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to look after a newborn or a sick relative without losing their job. The law applies only to companies with 50 or more employees, and then if an employee has worked for a certain amount of time.

Although the FMLA provides important job protections, many workers simply can’t afford to utilize it, leaving parents and caregivers with stark choices. According to the National Partnership for Women & Families, nearly half of workers who were eligible for leave but didn’t take it, cited lack of pay as the reason. Six in ten workers who took partially paid or unpaid leave reported difficulty making ends meet; half of these workers were forced to cut their leaves short due to financial constraints.

However, the tide may be starting to turn. Three states now guarantee paid family and medical leave—California, New Jersey and Rhode Island, and a similar law is set to go into effect in Washington State, possibly later this year. Additionally, studies of these programs have shown that they have been beneficial not only to employees, but to their workplaces as well. Various pieces of legislation are either being passed or introduced in cities and states across the country as well as on the federal level, with the Family And Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act being reintroduced in March.

Rachel Lyons, senior government affairs manager at the National Partnership for Women & Families, shared her thoughts on this important issue.

Q:  There seems to be momentum around paid family leave right now. Do you think there is a shift in thinking on this issue?

RL:  There is unprecedented momentum around paid leave right now, and a number of factors have contributed to what we see as a watershed moment for the policy’s future in this country.

Women now make up nearly half of the workforce and are primary breadwinners in 40 percent of households with children. Women are also still their families’ primary caregivers, so they are disproportionately impacted by conflicts between work and family caused by the nation’s lack of family friendly workplace policies.

There is also a powerful and growing body of evidence from existing paid leave programs and employer policies showing that paid leave benefits workers, their families, businesses and the economy. In particular, the success of paid family leave programs in California, New Jersey and Rhode Island demonstrate that.

People are struggling to manage work and family, and an overwhelming majority of voters (81 percent) want lawmakers to consider new laws that would help, like paid family and medical leave. They also say they are more likely to vote for someone who supports paid leave.

So, in many ways, the issue has become unavoidable for our elected officials. And some are stepping up to help advance the policy. The Obama administration just launched a new tour to highlight the issue, and the President has urged Congress to take action. The administration also dedicated and proposed funding to help states advance paid leave policies. And members of Congress recently reintroduced the Family And Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act, which would establish a national paid family and medical leave insurance program.

The National Partnership leads a coalition of several hundred organizations that is pushing for the FAMILY Act.


Q:  On the flip side, why is it taking the U.S. so long to catch up with the rest of the world? Why have we been unable to have these benefits sooner?

RL:  In many ways, our culture is very individualistic and the “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality is pervasive. But we also can’t ignore the strong influence that business and business interests play in our politics and policy landscape. There’s a longstanding misconception that what’s good for workers is bad for business, and in the case of paid family and medical leave—like so many other basic labor protections—that’s simply not true.

But, no matter why the nation has fallen so far behind, the country’s failure to guarantee paid leave hurts working families and our global competitiveness. When women don’t have access to paid leave, it is more difficult for them to remain in the workforce. In fact, women’s workforce participation, which climbed substantially in the United States in the 1970s and 1980s, has stagnated relative to other developed countries.


Q:  Studies have shown economic benefits when workplaces have adopted paid family leave. What are the other benefits, the ones that may be less tangible or easily quantifiable?

RL:  Overall, paid leave strengthens the economic security of working people and their families. It provides income stability to families with new children, encourages workforce attachment, promotes families’ financial independence and safeguards workers’ income and retirement security. It can also promote men’s involvement in the care of a child—men who take two or more weeks off after the birth of a child are more involved than fathers who take no leave in the direct care of their child nine months later.

Paid leave contributes to improved newborn and child health because newborns whose mothers take leave are more likely to be breastfed, receive medical check-ups and get critical immunizations. Seriously ill children also recover faster when cared for by their parents, and paid leave helps make that possible. It also allows ill or injured adults to get critical care and take needed recovery time, and it enables caregivers to help ill parents, spouses and children fulfill treatment plans and avoid complications and hospital readmissions.

Paid leave reduces worker replacements and improves worker loyalty. It saves the government and taxpayers money through reduced health care costs, reduced reliance on public assistance, more people staying in their jobs and paying taxes, and increased earnings and savings over time.


Q:  What would implementing family leave on a federal level mean to the average American?

RL:  It would mean that tens of millions of workers and their families could rest easier knowing they are no longer one illness, injury or birth away from financial devastation. It would be a giant leap toward the family friendly America we have long wanted and needed.

Right now, just 13 percent of the workforce has paid family leave through their employers, and less than 40 percent has personal medical leave. That means that, when illness strikes or babies are born, the majority of workers in this country have to choose between their health or the health of their families and their jobs. And the negative effects ripple throughout our communities and society.

A national paid family and medical leave program like the one the Family And Medical Insurance Leave Act would create is a smart, affordable and tested way to ensure that working people in this country can take time to address their own serious health conditions and care for their loved ones without sacrificing their economic security. It’s a common sense policy that would bring our nation’s workplace policies in line with the rest of the word.

A confluence of factors has gotten us to a moment as a nation when we are primed for progress on paid leave. This is a unique and unprecedented moment.

Now, it’s time for lawmakers to make the most of it.

Susan Buttenwieser’s writing has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and appeared in the Brooklyn Rail, Teachers & Writers magazine and other publications. She teaches creative writing in New York City public schools and with incarcerated women. 

Photo: gettyimages