It’s Time for Paid Leave

The birth of a child is a joyous occasion. Parents spend nine months anticipating, then meeting and bonding with their newest family member.  Unfortunately, this critical bonding period is cut short for too many families.

In 1993, Congress passed unpaid job protection through the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Employees can take leave, up to twelve weeks, unpaid, after the birth of a child or to care for a sick family member. However, there are limitations to the legislation that still leave 40% of the workforce ineligible to access FMLA.

The United States and New Guinea are the only two countries that fail to offer paid family leave. This leaves new parents having to make the tough choice–between their child and their job.

Last fall, the U.S. Department of Labor released The Cost of Doing Nothing, a report calling attention to the impact on children and families without access to paid family and sick leave policies. More than four in ten workers took ten days or less leave after the birth of a child. The average length of leave after child birth, using FMLA, was 5.5 weeks. Limited use of leave might be due to employees’ fear that time off will hurt their employment, but mostly it has to do with families’ inability to afford unpaid leave. Access to paid leave will provide families time to bond with their child without feeling the economic pressures from a potential loss of income.

Paid leave provides a number of benefits to a child’s health and well-being. Research released last month reviewed paid maternity leave in 20 low- and middle-income countries and found every one month of maternity leave could be associated with a 13% reduction in infant mortality in the low- and middle- income countries. Additional benefits of paid leave include increased likelihood of higher birth weight, reduced rates of premature births, and the increased likelihood of breastfeeding.

Without movement on a national level to implement paid family leave for employees, some states and individual companies have taken the responsibility to protect workers. Five states have passed paid family leave legislation. Unfortunately, one state, Washington, failed to provide the funding needed for implementation. The National Partnership for Women & Families provides a comparison of the various state plans. Additionally, employers can choose to offer paid leave without a mandate. Only 12% of private employers have done so.

On Wednesday, May 25th, Every Child Matters and the Child & Family Policy Center will co-sponsor a viewing of the documentary, Raising of America, followed by a panel discussion. The documentary explores the importance of a strong start for our children. Three key policy issues the film highlights are family leave, sick leave, and affordable, quality child care. CLICK HERE to watch the video trailer. Watch for registration information coming soon!

It is time we start to stress the need to invest in our children and our families. We hope you can join us on May 25th for this important community discussion.