Why America Needs a Paid Family Leave Act for All

5 minute read

Since President Trump took office, many women have been rising and building a powerful movement unlike ever before. The day after his inauguration, the largest outpouring of people on a single day in the history of our nation happened as people stepped into the streets for the Women’s March. Just one year after Trump’s inauguration, over a million women again took to the streets for the second Women’s March, and a historic number of women are running for office.

Still, we are the only industrialized country without a national paid family and medical leave program despite the fact that women are now roughly half of the paid labor force. Women routinely juggle an unprecedented number of roles each day at work and home, often caring not only for ourselves and children, but also for our partners and aging parents. But only 15 percent of U.S. workers overall have access to paid family leave, and that percentage is even less for low-wage workers. Because of this, one in four women return to work within two weeks of giving birth, and one in five employees — male and female — leave the workforce earlier than planned to care for a spouse or loved one.

The lack of a national paid family and medical leave program hurts our businesses, families, health and economy — and is a contributing factor to the gender wage gap, particularly for moms and women of color. The fight for family economic security policies like paid family leave is inextricably linked to the rise of the women’s movement: lack of access to these policies is another hurdle women must overcome to reach their career goals and have economic security.

It’s because of the relentless activism of women and families that we see a swell of momentum behind paid leave. Even long-resistant Republicans can’t avoid the issue any longer. During the 2016 election, every Democratic candidate and several GOP candidates started bringing up the need for paid leave: Trump and Sen. Marco Rubio both touted it on the trail, and now Sen. Rubio is talking with Ivanka Trump and others about the topic. Those of us who have been working on this for decades welcome them to the discussion, but remind them that it’s important to get the details right.

The current proposal being floated by Sen. Rubio and others is deeply flawed and extremely limited. An approach that will require workers to take a cut out of future social security benefits would undercut economic security and disproportionately harm women, who are more likely to take leave and tend to have lower retirement savings (in part due to the cumulative impact of pay discrimination over time). However, Sen. Rubio is right to galvanize Republican support for updating our nation’s outdated leave policies.

As MomsRising and our partners have been saying for decades, change is long overdue. February marks the 25th anniversary of the passage of the Family and Medical Leave Act. At the time, FMLA was seen as a strong first step toward passing paid family and medical leave for all. But Congress has dawdled on crossing the finish line. Meanwhile our rapidly aging population means more and more people are sandwiched between caring for their kids and their aging parents. When you look at the people who are able to take unpaid leave with the FMLA, more than three-quarters must do so to care for their own health or that of a seriously ill family member. We need a national policy that covers everyone.

That’s why we support Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Rep. Rosa DeLauro’s FAMILY Act. The FAMILY Act would keep working people in the jobs they need while allowing them to meet the dual responsibilities many of us face. After 25 years of only guaranteeing unpaid leave that many cannot afford to take, we need a robust and comprehensive paid family and medical leave program that covers all caregiving needs, not just new parents. It’s also essential that our paid leave program have a sustainable source of funding via small contributions from employees and employers that doesn’t require workers to reduce their Social Security savings or delay retirement.

Change is on the horizon. You can see it in every state as women’s marching feet hit the pavement. Women are rising. Whether they’re filing to run for office, making calls to their lawmakers, sending letters or meeting with elected leaders to demand change, a wave is growing. It’s time for members of Congress to finally cross the finish line of the race we started 25 years ago and pass a paid family and medical leave policy that covers each and every one of us. But for those that don’t, a woman is coming for your seat in 2018.

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