'False debate' hinders aid to families, first lady says

June 14, 1995|By Knight-Ridder News Service

WASHINGTON -- The problems of the American family won't be solved by engaging in a "false debate" about who's to blame, first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton said yesterday.

Instead, communities must recognize that multiple stresses -- especially economic ones -- are battering many families, Mrs. Clinton told journalists in the University of Maryland's 1995 Casey Journalism Center Fellowship program.

Mrs. Clinton met with the 29 journalists, from news organizations across the nation, as part of a program designed to improve coverage of children's issues.

She suggested to the journalists that their priority should be to dispel the image of the family as a "little fortress" completely immune to outside stresses.

"We've been engaging in a false debate in which the government becomes the target of choice with respect to everything that's wrong with the American family and American children," Mrs. Clinton said. "The reality is that there's more than enough accountability to go around."

In a theme she repeated throughout her remarks, Mrs. Clinton invoked economic stresses as the primary reason for family dysfunction.

Such issues as corporate downsizing, the erosion of the job base for American men, and families in which both parents must work long hours, are as crucial as issues of negative cultural influences and crime, Mrs. Clinton said.

"Very little attention is paid to the very difficult choices families must make for economic reasons to survive, and how those choices have negative impacts," Mrs. Clinton said.

Those choices, like placing children in inexpensive but low-quality child care, or working extra hours instead of spending them with families, means parents have less time to transmit values and morals to children, Mrs. Clinton said.

"It does a grave disservice to those families not to recognize the impact of downsizing and business policies that aren't family-friendly have on them," Mrs. Clinton said.

Businesses must take heed, and along with other sectors of the community, become a part of the solution, she added.

"Clearly, business practices in this turbo-charged capitalist society have had a dramatic impact on the quality of our life together and our family life and on our children, more than anything government has done," Mrs. Clinton said.

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