By: Stephanie Djordjevic
Becoming a parent is often a dream come true. The blessing of bringing a new life into this world is something that should be celebrated, but the responsibility that comes with raising a newborn while also working can be extremely stressful. This begs the question; how are parents supposed to find time for it all?
In many countries, such as Estonia, Japan, Australia, and Germany, the answer is paid family leave – time away from work that gives employees the ability to care for a newborn child or sick family member without fear of losing their job or income. Of forty-one countries, the United States is the outlier among fully developed capitalistic nations-states. Unfortunately, most parents in the United States don’t have access to a paid family leave program. A recent report from National Partnership for Women & Families found only 17 percent of United States workers have access to paid family leave through their employers. Additionally, less than 40 percent have access to personal medical leave through employer-provided insurance.
Every individual in the workforce will at some point need to take time away from work to care for a new child, deal with a family member’s sickness, or handle an illness of their own. We need a federal program to ensure employees can take this time off when they need it.
Paid family leave has many benefits, like improved labor force participation and better health outcomes for children and their parents. A joint report released in late 2015 from Princeton University and The Brookings Institution suggests various benefits exist for children when parents have the flexibility and ability to take time off. These benefits include greater academic performance and a lower risk of facing legal trouble.
Several states do guarantee parents the right to paid family maternity or paternity time off. Existing federal law – the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) – states that leave may be paid, unpaid, or a combination of both, giving private employers the authority to implement the policy whichever way they want. Without strict enforcement policies in place, most businesses do not offer their employees the time they need. Currently, only the District of Columbia and five states – California, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and Washington – require paid family leave programs. D.C. and all five states offer different amounts of leave and wage replacement. Recently, paid family leave has gone mainstream: more states across the country are considering bills and proposals that would provide employees with paid parental leave and paid time off to care for relatives with serious health conditions.
Republicans have traditionally opposed government-provided paid leave, but the Trump Administration has set a new tone led by the president’s daughter Ivanka, who sees this as her signature issue. Since 2017, 13 bills have been introduced in Congress about parental, family, and/or medical leave. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) introduced the Economic Security for New Parents Act, which allows parents to use their future social security benefits to support parental leave by delaying their retirement benefits by three to six months. Critics of the proposal cite studies predicting it will speed up the depletion of social security funds.
Another introduced bill, The Strong Families Act, suggests a tax credit funding method for those who voluntarily offer at least four weeks of paid leave to their employees. It is uncertain that employers would take advantage of the Federal Paid Leave Tax Credit, so it is less likely this bill will help those that are currently not receiving time off.
The Family and Medical Insurance (FAMILY) Act addresses the family and medical crisis and benefits workers, families, and businesses – creating a stronger national economy. Of the proposed bills, the FAMILY Act, introduced by Representative DeLauro (D-CT) and Senator Gillibrand (D-NY), is the most promising. The proposed program would be subsidized through a shared fund by employees and employer payroll contributions, making paid family leave affordable for employers and workers of all sizes. Every employee in every company would be covered. The FAMILY Act would enable workers to earn up to 66 percent of their monthly wage, up to a capped amount, ensuring that low and middle-wage workers can live sustainably for up to 12 weeks. The Center for Law and Social Policy advocates for how critical this movement is, especially for low-income workers and workers of color. Proponents of this bill urge Members of Congress to co-sponsor this piece of legislation that will ensure low-wage families have time to heal and care without compromising their economic security.
Despite all of the evidence showing how strong paid family leave policies help society, Congress cannot agree on how to pay for this type of program. Working families are struggling increasingly with work-life balance; in turn, the issue of paid family leave is widely supported by most Americans and supporters are seeking greater momentum from policymakers. Unfortunately, the deadlock is getting progressively worse. The only way to break the gridlock on funding a national family leave policy is through compromise – something today’s political climate often lacks.
The United States is the only industrialized country that does not guarantee citizens paid family leave. Congress must pass a bill that enables employees in all companies, no matter the size, to have the ability to take time off work to be with their loved ones – regardless of how it is funded.
The FAMILY Act is the national paid family and medical plan that invests in American families through bipartisan support. It is the Act voters want and what our country needs. As it stands, I too believe The FAMILY Act is the moral and most fiscally viable solution, and that it is absolutely necessary. It promotes economic security for working families, race and gender equality in the workplace, and creates a more level playing field for businesses of all sizes. It strives towards helping individuals obtain paid time off while, simultaneously strengthening our economy.
Congress, the time is NOW!
Photo Source: ThinkProgress