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Family friendly workplaces would boost economy: White House

By Annika McGinnis

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States could boost its sagging labor force participation rate and get more people back to work - if more businesses had family friendly policies such as paid maternity and paternity leave, the White House said in a report on Friday.

"Trying to balance breadwinning and caregiving responsibilities without the support of work-family policies designed to help families navigate these complexities is leaving too many families stressed, exhausted, and burdened by work-family conflict," the White House said.

The report was timed ahead of Monday's "summit on working families" in Washington, where Obama will promote policies such as raising the minimum wage and expanding access to childcare.

Republicans have said the proposals would hurt jobs, but Obama, who is seeking to boost Democratic fortunes before the midterm elections in November, argues the measures would help the economy.

The U.S. economy has showed signs of recovery since the recession ended in 2009, with unemployment at a five-and-a-half year low of 6.3 percent in May, the most recent measure.

But the benefits of the low unemployment rate are offset by concerns over a 62.8 percent labor force participation rate - the lowest rate in 36 years - a sign that some workers have become discouraged and dropped out of the labor force.

The White House argues family structures have changed dramatically in recent decades, but workplaces have not.

More than 40 percent of mothers are the household breadwinners, while the number of stay-at-home dads has doubled in the last 25 years, and fathers are working more hours on housework and childcare, the report said.

More people have to care for young children as well as older relatives. A third of workers have chosen not to take a job because of family conflicts, the White House said.

"The lesson is clear: if we want to increase the pace of economic growth we should make it easier for more men and women to participate in the labor force," the report said.

The United States is one of only three countries that does not offer mandatory paid parental leave policies, the report said, and only about a tenth of employers in the private sector choose to offer paid leave for family circumstances.

(Reporting By Annika McGinnis; editing by Gunna Dickson)

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