Just before the midterms, U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond made a prediction: “If Democrats get in the majority — which I think we will — you will see us very quickly vote to raise the minimum wage, for paid family leave . . . and for criminal justice reform.” Now that Democrats have taken the House, will that promised paid leave vote make its way to the floor?
Richmond may have an ally in U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, chairman of the Senate Finance Subcommittee on Social Security, Pensions, and Family Policy. Holding hearings in July on the subject, Cassidy said his motivations to pass paid leave were threefold: “improving health outcomes, helping families manage work and home responsibilities, and creating incentives to stay in the workforce, which supports productivity and economic growth.”
More than 65 million Americans, provide care for a chronically ill, disabled, or aged family member or friend each year, and each year about 4 million babies are born in the United States. Despite these statistics, only 14 percent of American workers have paid leave through their employer. Louisiana families are particularly disadvantaged with only 35 percent of new moms able to take any paid leave compared to 55 percent of moms nationwide.
Both Democrats and Republicans agree the status quo is unsustainable and have proposed various plans, but movement on these options is long overdue. The Family Medical Leave Act passed in 1993 offered job protections to millions, but it did not provide the economic security a paid leave policy would ensure. Both political parties recognize that adopting a national policy is good for business, families, state government, and the overall economy and country. The only question is how we will get it done.
A national paid leave policy is good for businesses. Right now, the status quo has small businesses competing for workers with larger companies better able to provide such attractive benefits to their employees. The Institute for Women’s Policy Research studies show that paid leave increases the likelihood that workers will return to work after childbirth, improves employee morale, has no or positive effects on workplace productivity, improves employee retention and family incomes.
A national paid leave policy is good for families. Studies show that paid-leave programs can substantially reduce infant mortality rates and better a child's overall health — and that fathers who take two or more weeks off after their child is born are more involved in their child's care nine months later. A report by the United Way of Southeast Louisiana indicates that 42 percent of Louisiana households earn below or just above the Federal Poverty Level, but not enough to afford a basic household budget of housing, child care, food, transportation, and health care. Financial stress — like a lack of paid leave — contributes to bad maternal and child health.
According to a report by the Mary Amelia Center at Tulane University’s School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, Louisiana is second highest among all U.S. states for rates of low birth weight and preterm births, conditions that increase risk for neonatal morbidity and long-term deficits in growth and development. Paid family leave is better for babies, mothers, and fathers who need time to establish critical bonding that will affect everyone’s health in the long term.
The United States is the most dangerous nation in the developed world in which to give birth, and Louisiana is among the states with the highe…
A national family leave policy is good for states and the country. Studies have found that women are 39 percent less likely to receive public assistance and 40 percent less likely to receive food stamps in the year following a child's birth compared to those who didn't have any leave. IWPR research further suggests that expanding paid leave is likely to have economy-wide benefits such increased labor force participation, which would bring concomitant economic gains, generating a larger tax base and increased consumer spending.
Movement on paid leave in Congress is critical so that businesses, workers, parents, and caregivers have a chance to voice their concerns about the balance of work and family in our country. Contact Cassidy and Richmond and ask that paid leave be considered one of the top priorities in the 116th Congress. Everyone is ready for a plan. Let’s talk about how to get there equitably.
Anna Mahoney is the director of research and administrative assistant professor of women’s political leadership at Newcomb College Institute, Tulane University. She is also a member of the Scholars Strategy Network.