Failing our Families with a Lack of Paid Leave
The United States is one of only six countries on a global scale that does not have a governmentally mandated national paid parental leave policy. Paid parental leave generally covers maternity, paternity, and parental leave, meaning that parents get paid time off work for having a new child, adopting a child, or taking care of an immediate family member. Maternity leave is one area where the U.S. is considerably behind other countries. Women tend to face additional gendered financial strain without paid leave due to the probability that they will most likely be the parent that takes unpaid time off for birth or the adoption of a new child. Paid maternity leave would alleviate some of the financial burden on new mothers that need time with their children for health or recovery. Paid family leave allows individuals to get paid time off work to care for their children, themselves, or other family members. Without protective policies in place, parents and families across the United States are suffering from the lack of governmental support.
Currently, in the U.S. we have the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993 that was passed 30 years ago thanks to the hard work of the feminist movement. This act gives employees the right to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off work to care for themselves and their newest family member or an ill family member. Unfortunately, the FMLA doesn’t have a requirement for employers to compensate employees for the time off. Eligible persons will be entitled to 12 workweeks of leave in a 12-month period, and still retain either their original job or a job that would be equivalent to their original position. They will retain any work-related benefits as well as insurance coverage. This act applies to any employers that employ 50 or more employees and any employees that have worked 1,250 hours during 12 months prior to the start of leave. While the current FMLA covers a decent portion of Americans, further legislation is necessary to improve the standards for all Americans.
Why is Paid Leave Important?
Paid family and medical leave are a crucial part of protecting workers and their families. In desperate need of updating, paid family and medical leave provides individuals income and job security while they take care of their health and the health of their families. The reduction of financial stress has been shown to improve the health and recovery of the parent, better growth, health, and improved physical and educational development outcomes for children. Providing relief to the workforce through maternal and paternal paid leave has been proven in 120 countries to increase life spans for mothers, improve infant mortality rates, decrease the risk of maternal mental illness, and provide long-term savings for businesses.
NOW activists championed the Family Medical Leave Act, passed in 1993, and held out for making it paid leave. But this was opposed by Republican lawmakers and some in the business community. Nonetheless, the FMLA was substantial progress for women and families. Surveys have shown the FMLA to be very popular, but the reality is that many parents cannot leave the paid workforce for long. Over the 30 years since the U.S. has fallen behind other countries’ standards for family and medical leave. In April 2021, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) introduced HR 2465/S.1195 to the 117th Congress. Otherwise known as the Healthy Families Act, the bill aimed at ensuring 7 paid sick days per year for workers to take care of themselves or a family member. As of today, it has not yet been reintroduced into the 118th Congress.
Also in April of 2021, the Biden Administration proposed the American Families Plan (AFP) which would provide free preschool and college, increase funding for childcare, and offer 12 weeks paid time off for workers to bond with their children after birth or adoption and care for themselves and their loved ones. Unfortunately, again it was Republican opposition to the legislation stopped the AFP in its tracks. Halting the support of American working families only serves to reinforce gendered financial inequality for working women and parents in need of time off. Currently, 11 states have paid family and medical leave: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Washington state, and Washington D.C. Now is the time to provide relief to those across our country who do not yet have the federal protections of paid leave.
How You Can Get Involved:
There is growing support for federally protected Paid Family and Medical Leave in the U.S. The National Organization for Women (NOW), The National Partnership for Women & Families (NPWF), National Women’s Law Center and Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC), and scores of other organizations, stand in strong support of updating the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993. With growing public and political support there is a better chance for passage of paid leave legislation. If you would like to get involved, you can contact your Senators and Representatives and tell them to support and pass paid leave for all. Here is the main phone number for Congress, 202-224-3121 or send a message via the Member’s website.
Karly Michon, Membership/Accounting Intern