A mother with a newborn baby in Canada has the right to receive paid family leave. So do mothers in France, Brazil, Australia, Pakistan, Venezuela – even Russia. But not those in the United States. Our country is one of only five in the world, and the only developed nation, that does not require paid family leave.
One would think paid family leave would have bipartisan support, given the economic benefits, overwhelming public support and fundamental right of caring for your own child at hand. Yet somehow Republicans in Congress have consistently fallen on the wrong side of the matter, just one battle in their endless war they have continued to wage against women.
The good news is that Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and her colleague in the House, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) recently reintroduced the FAMILY Act. The bill would provide workers with up to 12 weeks of partial income when they take time off for health reasons, including pregnancy, childbirth recovery and adoption. Additionally, it would allow workers to earn up to 66 percent of their monthly wages, and would apply to workers at companies large and small. The law would be funded by small employee and employer payroll contributions (two-tenths of one percent each).
Thanks to states such as New Jersey and California, which have already implemented similar programs, we can see positive economic benefits of requiring paid family leave that refute claims by critics that such a policy would be too expensive and be bad for business.
In these states, paid family leave costs less than $1 per week for each employee using payroll deductions, and the benefits are outstanding. In California, 91 percent of employers said the law had either a positive or no noticeable effect on profitability, and 99 percent said it increased or had a non-noticeable effect on employee morale, according to one survey. The policy has also led to more women joining the labor force, which in turn boosts the economy.
Mothers are far more likely to be employed up to 16 years after the birth of their first child if they received paid maternity leave, according to a Center for American Progress study. Additionally, theInstitute for Women’s Policy Research found that paid family leave increases consumer spending and generates a larger tax base, and could boost the country’s gross domestic product by 5 percent.
Current Law Is Not Enough
Current federal law requires employers give employees 12 weeks of unpaid leave for caring for a newborn child or a sick family member. Critics argue that this policy should be enough job security for new parents. However, when it is a single parent or a household living in near-poverty trying to make ends meet, 12 weeks without a paycheck simply isn’t possible. This is especially true when considering the costs associated with having a new baby.
What if we left it up to businesses? So far, that strategy hasn’t worked out, seeing as only 11 percent of workers in the U.S. get paid family leave through their employer or their state.
Rebecca Traister, writing in The New Republic, recently detailed what paid family leave would mean for her. As a pregnant woman, she was left with little choice – she had to keep her job even if she might have wanted to pursue other options. “My body and its condition defined my professional situation,” she wrote. She was thrilled when the new management announced a policy of paid maternal and fraternal leave for up to 16 weeks. She asks the question, “Is it such a bad thing to attract workers by offering them more equitable conditions..?”
In his most recent State of the Union speech, President Obama highlighted why paid family leave is so important and pledged to make it one of his top priorities: “It’s time we stop treating childcare as a side issue, or a women’s issue…Today we’re the only advanced country on Earth that doesn’t guarantee paid sick leave or paid maternity leave to our workers.”
The women’s economic agenda, “When Women Succeed, America Succeeds,” includes policies such as mandatory paid family leave, and is being promoted by the White House and Democrats. The President has set an example for Congress – giving six weeks paid leave to all federal employees after the birth or adoption of a child through executive action.
And not only is it the sensible thing to do – but voters agree. In a recent poll conducted by Lake Research Partners, 81% of respondents agreed that “paid time off to care for family members and affordable child care is good for our nation.” Poll after poll show Democrats, Independents and Republicans overwhelmingly supporting paid family leave policies.
Recently, Minnesota state Rep. Andrea Kieffer (R) called women who seek equality and fundamental rights in the workforce ‘whiners’. She opposed a set of bills aimed at raising the minimum wage, shrinking the gender pay gap and introducing paid family leave, saying that the bills were “putting us backwards in time.” She said that “we [women] are losing the respect we so dearly want in the workplace by bringing up these special bills for women.” This is in a state where women earn 80 cents on the dollar to their male counterparts. Instead of addressing the reality of women in the workplace, Rep. Kieffer prefers to antagonize those who want to improve the situation. This is just one example of conservative lawmakers trying to hold back much needed progress in the workplace. We can’t let this mentality poison the conversation.
President Obama and the American public want paid family leave. Requiring it is good for the economy, good for people and good for the country. Now, the important issue is in the hands of our legislature. Due to the Republican Congress’ misguided agenda, the chance of this important bill getting through committee is relatively slim. If you agree that paid family leave should not just be a luxury, but a right, call your congressional member and urge them to support sending the FAMILY Act to the floors and once it arrives, voting ‘aye’.
This blog originally appeared in ourfuture.org on April 6, 2015. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Meghan Byrd is a student at Bucknell University studying political science and Spanish. In 2015 she spent a semester at American University. She is originally from Palo Alto, California in the San Francisco Bay Area and center of Silicon Valley. She is interested in public policy and the intersection between government and technology.