The United States is one of four countries in the world that doesn’t offer new moms paid maternity leave. Pakistan has better maternity leave policies than us. Now, I can be an American exceptionalist as good as the next girl, but are you kidding me?
Just two months ago, the FAMILY Act was introduced to Congress for the first time. The bill would create a family and medical leave insurance program to be used for parental leave, a serious medical emergency or to take care of an ill parent, spouse or child. The proposal is modeled after successful social insurance programs in California, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Hawaii.
What would paid leave mean for you? Well, if you have a family or plan to start one someday, it might be nice to take time off to care for your child or – you know – heal from delivering a baby. In 1993, 21 years ago today, Congress passed the Family and Medical Leave Act to allow new parents to take job-protected, but unpaid, parental leave. But over 80 percent of expecting moms don’t even qualify for the FMLA. Employees aren’t getting much relief from their bosses either – only 12 percent of workers have access to paid family leave through their workplace, yet 81 percent of U.S. women will have children by the time they’re 40.
But paid family leave isn’t just about our kids – it’s about our parents too. The first Baby Boomers turned 65 in 2011. Between now and 2030 the population of those over the age of 65 will grow to 72 million, up from 35 million in 2010. Today, 43.5 million adults – mostly grown kids and aging spouses – are providing unpaid care for someone over the age of 50, costing the U.S. trillions of dollars each year in lost wages, absenteeism and productivity. Two-thirds of all caregivers are women, complicating women’s ability to thrive in workplaces that don’t accommodate the demands of family.
The Washington legislature has considered, but not passed, bills for statewide paid sick days and state-based family and medical leave insurance. Passage of paid leave bills in either “Washington” would mean every worker could earn a few days of sick leave each year for doctor’s visits or when the flu strikes. Every baby born in our state would have the benefit of the best possible start, with loving care by parents no longer forced to rush back to work too soon. Working people could spend time with a dying parent or critically ill spouse, without risking a financial disaster. An economically secure workforce means lower costs for the state and taxpayers, too.
Paid family and medical leave is a common sense solution to the predictable booms and busts of work and family. It’s a popular idea too – 72% of U.S. voters support expanded paid family and sick leave policies.
It’s time to update policies to match the reality of today’s working families. It’s time to take care of our own.