There’s one progressive issue that didn’t die in the wake of the 2016 election, and that’s paid family leave – an issue near and dear to our liberal little hearts.
In the months leading up to the election, the need for better family leave policies was discussed by both major party presidential candidates and by the voters. As Vicki Shabo from the National Partnership for Women and Families reported, “We saw in poll after poll, voters saying this was an issue they cared about.” While Democrats have touted the issue for decades, “the fact that it came up in a general election by the Republican candidate was totally unprecedented.”
And both parties should care, because currently just 14% of American workers have access to paid family leave through their employer, and fewer than 40% have personal medical leave to address their own serious health condition. According to the Pew Research Center, America is the only developed nation in the world without guaranteed paid parental leave. We’re dead last in a list of 41 countries. We are literally doing it worse than everyone.
This means many new moms head back to work just days after giving birth. Ninety five percent of new dads are back at work less than two weeks after the birth of a baby, even high-income dads.
And this isn’t even the bad news.
The Bad News
The bad news for paid leave is that the Republican candidate won the election, and the maternity leave policy currently being advanced by our president’s daughter is not good. Our personal politics aside, Ivanka Trump’s plan is inadequate and myopic.
She suggests six weeks’ paid maternity leave plus income tax deductions for childcare. To be clear, her plan only covers mothers who actually give birth. It does not cover fathers or adoptive parents (such as gay dads). It also excludes women in same-sex couples who aren’t carrying the child.
It’s really, really narrow.
Plus the tax credit won’t help a big chunk of the workforce. About 45% of American workers “don’t earn enough income to be paying taxes,” according to Victoria Budson, who chairs the Woman and Public Policy program at Harvard’s Kennedy School. So a tax credit does them no good.
Ivanka’s plan is particularly disappointing because myriad studies show that when dads take paternity leave, they continue to share child-care duties more evenly throughout childhood. Even more importantly, it helps remove the career-limiting stigma from maternity leave.
In other words, paid maternity leave is not enough. That phrase is outdated, a dinosaur. We need to be talking about paid family leave if we ever want equality in the workforce.
Here’s the Better Plan
And now some good news: we can do better than Ivanka’s limited six-week plan. Today Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) is introducing the FAMILY Act, a national paid family leave solution that will cover everyone.
The FAMILY Act will allow working people to take partially paid time off to address their own serious medical condition, including pregnancy and recovery from childbirth; the birth or adoption of a new child; the serious health condition of a child, parent, spouse, or domestic partner; and certain military caregiving and leave needs. More information is available here.
Not only does it cover all American workers, it’s affordable for businesses. It will be funded through minimal employee and employer contributions – less than $1.50 per week for a typical worker. Case studies demonstrate the policy will actually save companies money (including small and medium sized businesses!), because it will improve retention rates and spare businesses the costs of onboarding and training new employees. Some studies suggest America’s GDP would be 2-3% higher with a policy like the FAMILY Act in place.
So far 25 Democratic senators have signed on, but the bill really needs Republicans to get on board too if it has any chance of being passed.
Time to Take Action!
Would you like an action item to help in this fight? We thought you would! Here’s what you can do to help.
First, contact your senators and representatives and tell them this issue matters to you. You’re welcome to use our sample script:
“I’m calling [NAME] to urge you to support the Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act, which was just reintroduced in the 115th Congress. People like me have an acute need for paid family and medical leave when babies are born, children are adopted, loved ones fall seriously ill or face a serious injury, and when a personal medical issue arises. National survey data show that 71% of 2016 voters say they or their families would face financial hardship in such a circumstances. A comprehensive national approach to paid family and medical leave would help tremendously.”
If you have a personal story, share it when you call. Personal stories matter.
Second, if you’re active on social media, talk about this issue! We need to socialize the need for paid family leave (not just maternity leave). Here are some sample Tweets you can use:
- It’s time for paid family and medical leave in the United States. For everyone. Period. SupportPaidLeave.org #paidleave #FMLA24
- Only 14% of us have jobs that provide paid family leave to care for a new child or seriously ill loved one. SupportPaidLeave.org #FMLA24
- No one should have to choose btwn caring for a loved one and a job! Tell Congress to support #paidleave: WeTweet.org/leave #FMLA24
- In a nation that claims to value family, why don’t we provide #paidleave? Congress, listen up. WeTweet.org/leave #FAMILYAct #FMLA24
Here’s a brilliant video that illustrates the reality of the tough choices facing parents today. Feel free to share it with your friends.
Paid family leave is an issue that’s gaining traction on both sides of the aisle. Let’s help make it a reality.