Paid Leave Pays Us All

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I learned something last night. Do you know the only two countries in the industrialized world who don’t have paid family leave? Papua New Guinea and the United States. Yes, the “greatest country in the world” isn’t addressing a basic need of its citizens. This fact and others were shared last night at our panel on Paid Leave in conjunction with a screening of Zero Weeks, a documentary on efforts and failures to support single people and families.

Last night in Asheville at a panel moderated by Women AdvaNCe, representatives from Aeroflow (a company making great strides in supporting their employees), the North Carolina Justice Center, and MomsRising all shared with the crowd what deficiencies we have in the area of paid leave and what could be done.


Below are some of the facts shared by MomsRising.


  • Right now only 13 (!!!) percent of Americans have access to paid family leave through their employer and only 37% have personal medical leave provided through an employer.
  • Although the current Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows some employees to take up to 12 weeks of job-protected leave, it only covers about 60 percent of employees.
  • A quarter of all poverty spells in the United States are because of having a baby.
  • The U.S is one of the only countries in the world that doesn’t offer paid leave to new mothers.
  • Paid family leave has been shown to reduce infant mortality by as much as 20% (and the U.S. ranks a low 37th of all countries in infant mortality).
  • Paid leave improves worker retention, which saves employers money through reduced turnover cost.


These are all important pieces of information to consider and not just if you have or plan to have children. Paid leave is something we all will need at some point in our lives. When a parent is aging, when we get sick, or have unexpected other personal needs that pop up as a matter of living. The documentary featured stories from Dad’s who missed out on important milestones in their newborn’s lives, a mother battling stage 4 cancer who just wanted to be able to spend more time healing and playing with her two year old and so many more.


Beyond the important factoids and statistics shared, my big a-ha moment came when Jennifer Jordan from Aeroflow shared that some companies just aren’t aware of the impact of the gap created when people grow their families, or confront illness. Beyond that, some are reluctant to make any advancements for fear that whatever they do, won’t be enough and they’ll be criticized. Others aren’t sure where to start to make changes, or how to initiate them without going broke.


The NC Families Care Coalition is making great strides in providing information and support to companies who may want to consider such options.


But there are things we can do. Do you know where the candidates you’re voting for stand on paid leave? I surmise that many don’t have a declared position, because they’ve not been pushed to declare it. Have you asked your employer about expanding their support of families? The more we push and ask and make sure this is top of mind for our elected officials and business owners, the faster we can join the rest of the industrialized nations.


And let’s not forget who is disproportionately impacted by these societal deficiencies. It’s women of color. While the corporate world and public sector is likely to catch up sooner versus later on offering paid leave benefits, people who work in the service industry and minimum wage jobs will the be last to benefit, and in many ways need the support the most. By advocating on a policy level and financially supporting places that do offer benefits, we can advance change.


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