Why paid family leave isn’t just for women

So let’s be honest. The end of paid family leave in the US has seemed inevitable in the past, but now it looks like it could be confirmed—and reversed—before it even happens. In a…

Why paid family leave isn't just for women

So let’s be honest. The end of paid family leave in the US has seemed inevitable in the past, but now it looks like it could be confirmed—and reversed—before it even happens.

In a recent hearing of the House committee on education and the workforce, Betsy DeVos, the secretary of education, suggested that paid family leave—while desirable—could be detrimental to the economy. She said paid family leave, which is mandated by law in about half of all states, “covets wage replacement.”

Sorry, secretary, but it’s not about wage replacement. It’s about enabling families to have choices for how they raise their children, where they live, and how they decide to get paid.

From the deep south to the blue states

In Louisiana, one of nine states that require paid family leave, advocates are lobbying for paid leave. One measure that has been introduced in the state legislature is to increase the number of minimum wages for the state by 50 cents an hour, to $10.50, in order to fund an increase in state-funded paid family leave. For an estimated 25,000 people in Louisiana who are parents and are unemployed, $10.50 an hour—about 30 percent of the state’s minimum wage—would cover childcare for more than seven weeks, under current economic conditions.

In South Carolina, paid family leave was offered in the form of publicly financed insurance to employees before legislators repealed it. The issue was quickly resurrected in an amended bill that actually includes provisions for employer-paid, but community-run and operated, paid family leave—without the taxpayer subsidies.

And in Pennsylvania, advocates are fighting to end the state’s 8-year-old parental leave law, which requires a state employee’s employer to contribute to his or her family leave insurance. The employer’s contribution equals the average state salary. The workers are supposed to receive a quarter of their annual wage, but those little payments don’t keep pace with the cost of childcare.

Closer to home

No matter where you are in the country, you can count on your family for many things. Not your job.

People in every state from Wyoming to New York have had to take leave at some point in their life—at least until the US dropped from the top 20 countries on the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Index and the last five countries for having the worst gender wage gap. After the 2008 recession, families in these states, where loss of jobs was widespread, took extreme measures to help their families manage, such as staying in their homes or working part-time (as I did with my daughter). Families in other states with higher unemployment rates have been forced to eat into savings or save up, limiting the amount they have available for their children’s future education.

And in California, child care costs are the highest in the country. In other words, the most expensive state in the country has the highest paid family leave—and that puts financial pressure on families in every state.

Thank you Congress, for not listening

This is part of what makes today different from this time before. For one thing, this time, every family—in every state and on every budget—has an opportunity to change things. In the past, even if we had the knowledge to have paid family leave in our states, we didn’t have the chance to vote for the governors or lawmakers who would take action. That changed in 2004, when California first mandated family leave, and nothing was ever repeated there. After California, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Vermont, and the District of Columbia have all mandated paid family leave; and in some cases all 10 have taken action. In the 1990s, paid family leave failed to advance in Connecticut, Vermont, and Rhode Island. But now, the momentum of the last decade has spread to 32 states with varying degrees of implementation.

The United States is now in sixth place, behind nations such as Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Argentina, Hong Kong, Israel, and Australia, in a Business Roundtable survey of the world’s fastest-growing economies. In other words, the United States ranking by economic opportunities for women and children. In other words, a place where it costs more than a year’s salary to care for an infant.

Keren Timmerman is the author of More Jobs (Lehman), the co-author of Job 2.0: A Theory for the 21st Century and one of the instructors in the Coalition for a Compulsory Paid Family Leave program in Los Angeles.

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