Paid family and medical leave would help millions of workers, families and employers


(NNPA NEWSWIRE)—In a country where most people must work to make ends meet, work isn’t working for most families. The impossible, exhausting cycle of careers and caregiving doesn’t allow for real work-life balance. Workers and their families are tired, and we’re paying the price for living in a country that doesn’t have a care infrastructure to support them. We are struggling to hang onto our jobs while caring for our families.  Fortunately, there is an opportunity to change that. On Oct. 25, the Senate Finance Committee will hold its first-ever hearing on paid family and medical leave.

The United States is the only member of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) that does not require workplaces to provide paid family and medical leave as a benefit of employment. When nearly all developed countries have acknowledged the importance of paid family and medical leave, the silence of the United States is ominous. Nearly half of U.S. families live on the edge of financial ruin, according to the Corporation for Enterprise Development. This financial precariousness forces people to make the impossible choice between caring for sick or elderly family members and financial disaster.

The AARP found that there are 53 million caregivers in this country; that doesn’t include parents caring for children, grandparents caring for children, or young adults and children caring for an adult. Many of these caregivers are also working. Households of color are more likely to be multigenerational, with children and elders who depend on breadwinners. Women of color are disproportionately affected by the absence of paid family and medical leave. Black women, in particular, are more likely to participate in the workforce and serve as the primary breadwinners for their families, meaning we often face the difficult task of juggling both caregiving and work. Without paid family and medical leave, our entire families are vulnerable to circumstances that are often unpredictable.

Paid family and medical leave would allow workplaces to retain talent, provide financial leverage for people to participate in the economy, and keep families afloat during times of crisis. But it is also scarce—especially for people in lower-paid and hourly positions. Implementing paid family and medical leave at the national level not only benefits families, but it also has the potential to improve businesses and communities. Companies are likely to see reduced turnover and more job satisfaction and productivity from their employees. A financially secure family is better equipped to contribute to the local community and will have more money to spend—boosting local economies.

Crucially, paid family and medical leave also strengthens public health. When caregivers can take time off work without paying devastating financial consequences, our sick family members can more easily remain in their homes while they’re both contagious and convalescing. In a decade that will likely forever be associated with a global pandemic, the physical health of our communities has never been more important.  Family Values @ Work and our state Network partners have been building this movement for more than 20 years and winning paid family and medical leave and paid sick and safe days state-by-state while building the political pressure necessary to win a federal bill. This hearing is a significant milestone in our work, and motivation to continue organizing, advocating, and winning policies that support families. It is because of the dedication and leadership of our Network that we’re here today.

Paid family and medical leave makes sense for families, businesses, and communities. It’s a win-win solution for everyone. To secure a brighter, more equitable future for working families, Congress should act now. The Senate Finance Committee’s next step is to pass the FAMILY Act out of committee immediately. The House should follow the lead of their colleagues and they don’t have to wait. The FAMILY Act has already been introduced in both chambers and meets Family Values @ Work’s definition of equitable policy. The FAMILY Act would provide workers with up to 12 weeks of paid time off for the birth or adoption of a new child and for personal medical needs, or the care of a seriously ill family member, and now includes safe leave for sexual or domestic violence. Workers will receive wage replacement on a tiered scale, and it ensures that workers will have a job to return to after taking time to care. No family should be forced to choose between a paycheck and their loved ones—especially not when practical policy decisions are ready to be enacted to help them.

(Josephine Kalipeni (@malawian81) is an economic justice advocate and executive director of Family Values @ Work.)

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