The United States is the only industrialized nation without paid family leave. In 1993, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) was signed by President Clinton. In 1993, I was also four years old. Needless to say, it is outstandingly outdated! Since then, the workforce, economy, and what is meant by the term “family” have all drastically changed. The need for paid family and medical leave is at an all-time high, especially as student debt accumulates and families now need two full-time salaries to even make ends meet.
Paid family and medical leave will provide much needed financial relief to working caregivers, new parents, and those recovering from a serious illness. Rhode Island and New Jersey already have successful paid family leave programs. In 2016, New York passed paid leave and Massachusetts isn’t far behind. To remain competitive in our region, we must be next.
FMLA was a necessary start for working families but let’s face it: times have changed. The time is now to pass paid family and medical leave here in CT because:
Women now make up nearly half of the workforce. Still, even when they work full-time, women are the main caregivers in families. All women have different goals; however, the choice to attain success, whether personally, professionally, or both, should not be obstructed because of financial drawbacks and the lack of access to paid family and medical leave. In balancing caregiving and careers, women workers (especially workers of color) may need to reduce hours or leave the workforce entirely; resulting in fewer opportunities for raises and promotions and thus, the gender wage gap would further increase.
Men deserve the right to be caregivers too. Millennials, both women and men, are the generation that will most likely be moving into management positions and having children at the same time. The majority of millennials report they would be less likely to leave a job with paid parental leave which provides for stable households and economy. Fathers who are able to take longer leaves after the birth of a child are more involved in child rearing activities even after they return to work. Overall, longer periods of leave result in better prenatal and postnatal care, as well as healthy child development. Fathers can feel encouraged to take time to spend with their children.
The number of employees covered by FMLA isn’t sufficient. According to a study of the FMLA, 78% of employees who needed family or medical leave but didn’t take it said they didn’t take it because they couldn’t afford to lose any part of their income. In a recent study, 12% of private sector workers and 17% of public sector workers reported having access to paid family and medical leave through their employer. Only 5% of part-time workers have access to paid leave. An employee should not be caught between choosing their career or their families just because they work multiple jobs, have recently been hired, or work for a small company. If legislation here in CT follows the Campaign’s recommendations, thousands of workers would gain access to paid leave.
The definition of the word “family” has changed. Families are not “one-size-fits-all.” Under the FMLA, the word “family” does not cover grandparents, siblings, in-laws, aunts or uncles, or other relatives. The term “family” is more expansive than ever before. Family can now signify more than an individual who is related by blood or marriage. For example, if a child or adult identifies as a member of the LGBT* community, they may be ostracized from their family and find themselves choosing a family of their own. These relationships should be protected in the same way. Same-sex marriage is now recognized nationwide. Paid family and medical leave will strive for equality so that the terms “spouse” and “child” are fully recognized outside of the “traditional” context.
What’s the Catch?
Truly, there isn’t one. Everyone can benefit from paid family and medical leave. When employees know they have the ability to take time off from work to care for themselves or a loved family member, they experience greater job satisfaction and are more productive employees. Paid family and medical leave also attracts top talent and helps build a young and innovative workforce.The Harvard Business Review recently reported that 38% of millennial workers say they would move not just to another state, but to another country for better family and medical leave benefits. These are the skilled workers our businesses – and our state economy – need to thrive.
Connecticut needs to raise its standards and invest in its citizens. When there’s no system in place that allows for employees to take time off without worrying about going into a financial crisis, we cannot say truthfully that we value families. If we do not have a system that relieves the worry of relying on public assistance until, and if, an employee can get back to work, we cannot say we value families. If mothers and fathers are both working full-time and still cannot make ends meet to welcome a new baby, take care of a loved one, or recover from a serious illness, we cannot say we value families.
Paid family and medical leave will provide relief to Connecticut workers and ensure that no one is forced to choose between the family they love and the job they need. We must dismantle the myth that our workforce cannot afford to have healthy and sustainable working conditions.