Last week I joined Women AdvaNCe in Washington, DC for the White House Summit on Working Families. Among the most popular themes of the day was that everyone succeeds when families succeed. It was amazing to hear lawmakers publicly pledge their commitment to caring for me, a working mom married to a working dad, with two children who require a variety of ever-changing childcare solutions.
Facing a group of more than 1,000 working parents, business owners, and other stakeholders, the speakers called for a variety of family-friendly policy changes including flexible work hours, protections for pregnant workers, and an increased minimum wage. But I believe that the policy change with the strongest possibility of gaining traction in the U.S. is funding of family leave for ALL workers.
President Obama (who stood thrillingly within shouting distance of the Women AdvaNCe table at the Summit) bemoaned the fact that the federal Family Medical Leave Act gives workers the ability to leave work to care for new children or sick family members, but doesn’t provide pay during that time.
The United States is the only developed country in the world without a law guaranteeing paid family leave. “If France can figure this out, we can figure it out,” Obama quipped at the Summit. The Department of Labor, under the White House’s direction, is pressuring Congress to pass the FAMILY Act, which would give workers 60% of their income for up to 12 weeks while caring for a new child, elderly parent, or sick family member.
But the family leave pay wouldn’t just benefit the employees who need it. Here are five ways the FAMILY Act would benefit every North Carolinian:
- It would improve infant health. Babies who stay with a parent get sick less frequently, and moms who go back to work after the three months of maternity leave report higher levels of happiness and breastfeed at much higher rates.
- It decreases lifelong reliance on government programs. Workers who can take a short paid leave to stay with an elderly parent are less likely to drop out of the workforce altogether, and thus retain their retirement benefits. Parents with paid leave can stay with gravely ill children, but return to work after without needing food stamps or other financial help.
- It creates more tax revenue and stimulates the economy. Parents who don’t have to choose between their family and their job stay at work and continue to pay payroll taxes. Workers who are secure in their employment spend more money, often at local businesses and companies.
- It provides companies with a stable base of workers. Without the turnover caused by employees who move to companies with better leave policies or who drop out of work altogether, companies are able to innovate while saving money. Training new employees costs money and costs years of institutional knowledge.
- It makes people happy. Even folks who aren’t planning on having children or whose parents are in good health benefit from the safeguards provided by the FAMILY act. When your coworkers aren’t trying to balance caring for a newborn while working 40 hours a week, the whole workplace functions more efficiently. Giving families the space they need to meet their needs means that when they are at work, they can dedicate their time to the office or factory floor without worrying about what’s going on at the hospital or sick room.
When I gave birth to my first child, I received 60% of my pay for three months. This made all the difference. If not for paid leave, I would have returned to work at 6 weeks. Does your company offer paid family leave, even though they aren’t required to? How does that work for you?