By: Mary Beth Ferrante
This article originally appeared on Forbes.com.
It seems like momentum is building for a national paid family leave policy. In the first six weeks of the year, the Ways and Means Committee held another hearing on paid family and medical lean and even President Trump called for support for a paid family leave policy during his State of The Union. Talking about paid family leave at this level seems like progress, but are we any closer to covering the 80% of Americans that still do not have any access to paid family leave?
Whether birthing, non-birthing, adopting or using a surrogate, raising, and caring for a life is one of the hardest things we as humans will ever do in our time on Earth. Yet raising and caring for children is viewed by our government, employers, and quite frankly, society as a burden, especially when it comes to footing the bill.
The majority of Americans, no doubt, support paid family leave. And there is even bipartisan support for some version of paid family leave, but there continues to be broad disagreement on a few (major) details:
Should we even have it? Who should receive it? And who is going to pay for it?
On the question of should we have it, and I can’t believe we still have to justify this, the answer is yes. Full stop. For all the reasons I point out here and here and oh, here too, adequate and accessible paid leave is critical for the health of the baby, for the birthing mother, and for bonds created between baby and both parents.
Who should get it? Everyone.
It should be a fundamental right available to ALL – birthing, non-birthing, adopting, fostering, and all caretakers who are providing care to a family member. This is why Alexis Ohanian, new dad, and husband to Serena Williams, is fighting for paid family leave after his wife nearly died giving birth to their daughter. This is why there are over 40,000 signatures on Dove’s Men+Care Pledge for Paternity Leave and Dadavocates, like Paul Nguyen, are showing up to Dad’s Day of Action and meeting with Congressional leaders including Speaker of the United States House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA).
On the question of who should pay for it (and let me tell you, this is the real issue here), it’s nothing short of a three-ring circus: The federal government is pointing to employers; employers are pointing back to both state and federal governments and, per the latest State of the Union address, the federal government is now looking back at us, the parents, and our future tax returns as a way to cover our paid leave…what a (not so) great solution.
Whitney Pesek, PL+US’s legislative director, is continuing to educate on why current proposals don’t meet the needs of real families, nor do they align with what the research tells us a high quality paid leave program looks like. She is optimistic, sharing that Members of Congress want to create the most robust national paid leave program possible so that working families and businesses alike in the United States can realize all the positive outcomes of guaranteeing this critical benefit.
We also know it requires that Members be educated on the research and relay the stories of their constituents, as well as large and small businesses, to illustrate why a high-quality policy must include these recommendations. And while it feels like we’re still eons away, Congress seems to be taking some steps in the right direction.
Allison Robinson, the CEO and Founder of The Mom Project, insists: “
American families feel so stretched trying to work and care for loved ones. Seeing government leaders finally come to the table to acknowledge ‘it shouldn’t be this hard’ is promising, and by ushering in policies to make paid family leave a right for all Americans, we will be a stronger, healthier, and more productive countryAllison Robinson, CEO, The Mom Project
While we continue to wait for our government to (once and for all) do the right thing, the latest PL+US Employer Trend Report found that companies and even potential employees are making some serious headway.
After the WRK/360 team hosted a roundtable with a group of senior HR Leaders last week to discuss paid parental policies, we found that companies risk losing talent to competitors if they don’t meet the demands of emerging market trends. In fact, one senior HR leader shared that their job candidates ask about parental policies upfront, and if they don’t feel like the company is doing enough to support parents, they won’t accept the job. The message is clear: Paid leave is table stakes — you either play or you fold. Unlike past generations, millennials are simply unwilling to prioritize work over family. They are seeking out employers who will support the transition back to work with flex time and services like those that WRK/360 provides.
Sure, it’s promising that companies are stepping up, and employees are demanding more, but unfortunately, as the PL+US report cited, “women, people of color and low wage workers are being left behind by the private sector momentum.” Let’s also not forget the 9.5 million self-employed that have little to no access to paid family leave and go back to work a few weeks or even days after birth.
So, while some might say that they feel hopeful after the State of the Union address, I’m frustrated. Frustrated that this is still even a conversation. I’m frustrated that Finland can pass seven months of paid parental leave and yet the United States of America, the nation that put a human on the moon, has yet to get it done.