3 Reasons America Needs Paid Family Leave
Paid family leave has finally become a conversation in the United States now that it is the “only wealthy nation without a formalized policy guaranteeing workers paid time off when they become new parents.” According to NPR, “out of 193 countries in the United Nations, only a small handful do not have a national paid parental leave law: New Guinea, Suriname, a few South Pacific island nations and the United States.” This means that most new parents must go back to work the day after giving birth to, or adopting, a new child if they cannot afford to take the time off.
While the Family and Medical Leave Act ensures workers can receive up to 12 weeks of job-protected, unpaid leave, that is simply not helpful to those who need it most. But why should Americans support legislative action that makes companies enact a paid family leave policy? Here are a few reasons why.
1. Promotes Gender & Socioeconomic Equality
Women now make up a great portion of the American workforce. As a result “women who become pregnant today are more than three times as likely to be working a job until the very end of their pregnancy when compared to their 1960s counterparts. Of American women today who work during pregnancy, 59% will be back to work within three months of giving birth.”
Since women still disproportionately carry the majority of the caregiving workload at home, lack of paid leave policies effectively discriminates against them by not allowing them the time they need to support their families at home and at work. Whether they are caring for newborn children, a sick, elderly parent, or a newly adopted toddler, not being given the financial support necessary to ensure a healthy life for them and their family leads to women getting pushed out of the workforce, being forced to accept lower wages, and having to miss out on advancement opportunities.
Women aren’t the only ones who suffer from unpaid leave. According to a study done by PL+US, a non-profit organization that advocates for paid family leave in the U.S., 94% of low-income working people have no access to paid family leave and unequal paid family leave policies at the nation’s largest retail employers hit low-income and households of color the hardest. If America really wants to improve racial and gender equality and support the working and middle classes, paid family leave is a crucial step for improving the landscape.
2. Promotes Health & Wellness
“Studies that examine the effects of paid parental leave indicate that it contributes to fewer low birthweight babies, fewer infant deaths, higher rates of breastfeeding, longer parental lifespan and improved mental health, as well as increased long-term achievement for children.” In addition to all of these benefits, paid family leave gives people the opportunity to bond with their families.
Especially with policies that give fathers the same amount of paid time off as mothers, families with new children get the opportunity to bond with their new family and provide critical emotional support during the earliest years which shape the home environment for the future. Children who grow up in supporting, caring homes fair better in the world as they age and this early parental bonding is a significant part of that success.
We must remember that paid family leave policies don’t just benefit the employees who are receiving the time off now, but also their children, society, and the business who will hire these well-adjusted children when they become adults. Paid family leave is an investment in the social, mental, and economic wellness of the entire country- and it benefits everyone.
3. Financially Supports Businesses
Businesses, especially small ones, can’t be expected to pay these expenses out-of-pocket, which is why so many private companies don’t offer any policies now. Instead, by looking at other countries who have successful paid family leave systems like Canada, France, Japan, and others, we can structure a system that doesn’t place undue stress on any size company.
According to an article by NPR, these other governments “rely on a social insurance structure, where small contributions create a pool of money that workers can draw from when they need to take leave.” This creates a situation where small businesses and other companies who have a predominately young set of workers aren’t financially stressed when they have to provide their employees’ support. It spreads the financial responsibility evenly among business throughout the country, just like an insurance pool.
And as an employee, you know going into your employment that you have to work for your benefits- it isn’t handed out to your right away. In countries like France, workers must put in a certain amount of time, an investment, if you will before they can redeem their paid family leave benefit. This creates an environment where workers are more empowered, confident, and invested in their work because they know that when they need the time to take care of their families, they won’t have to struggle to pay their bills or go on social assistance programs to make ends meet.
Overall, it helps businesses afford to give their employees what they need to be healthy, creates a discrimination-free environment, reduces the cost of social assistance programs for the government, and lessens the burden on employees, who will show their appreciation by working harder. It’s a win for everyone!
We are long overdue in this country to provide financial support to new parents and family caregivers who work so hard to make our economy strong. This includes supporting companies in their endeavor to take care of their employees and businesses, while simultaneously investing in the health and long-term success of our citizens. If we don’t work together to join the rest of the developed world in enforcing this basic standard of support for our society, we will continue to see our economy and physical and mental health suffer the consequences.
Abby Yetter is the CEO and Chief Consultant of Bright Ideas Small Business Solutions, LLC. She is a driven, enthusiastic businesswoman, with a talent for organizing the chaotic, and branding the unfamed. Abby strives to use her creativity, and experience, to solve the many problems of small businesses. With a background based in customer service management, social media, technological organization, sales, marketing, and customer experience specialties, she enjoys taking everyday complications, and finding the newest, most productive ways to execute the tasks.All stories by: Abby Yetter