By Annie W. Bezbatchenko and Wendy Chun-Hoon
In addition to boasting Halloween, October carries the charge of National Work and Family Month. October is a time when people in organizations across the United States are asked to find ways to promote healthier and more flexible work environments.
At our own organizations, Kabrita USA and Family Values @ Work, one way we’re responding is by advocating for a national paid leave program that is comprehensive and inclusive. As a mission-based formula company that values the connection between parent and child (Kabrita) and a network that fosters grassroots coalitions and effective policy change (Family Values @ Work), we’re coming together and using our metaphorical megaphone to speak out for a paid family and medical leave program that values all care and every family.
Kabrita USA and Family Values @ Work feel compelled to put a spotlight on public policy for several reasons:
Babies need their parents when they first arrive in a family. Extensive research documents the benefits of bonding time with newborns or newly adopted kids. Paid leave is strongly associated with lower infant mortality rates and improvements to health for kids in elementary school. At a basic level, it permits parents the time to go to routine doctor appointments and get needed vaccinations.
The need for special care doesn’t end at birth or adoption. Infants, toddlers, school kids, teens have their fair share of serious illnesses or injuries. Responsive parents allow children to know they are loved, safe, and cared for.
As Katy Tur, MSNBC News correspondent, succinctly summarized upon her return to work in September 2019, “Parents need time with their babies. Babies need time with their parents. And moms need support, and if that support is coming from a partner, that partner should get equal time off, paid time off, emphasis on paid. Family leave supports babies, which supports us all.” Tur expressed dismay that lawmakers talk about paid leave, but still have done nothing about it.
Babies also need their parents to be healthy. Parents must be able to take time when they need to heal, including during pregnancy or after labor and delivery—or to care for each other or another loved one. Paid leave leads to improved mental and physical health for mothers and fathers, for seniors and those with disabilities or chronic ailments, and for the public. Paid leave is critical to helping older workers stay in the labor force and maintain their economic security. In fact, more than three-quarters of those using the Family and Medical Leave Act take the time to care for their own illness or a seriously ill relative.
The unfortunate truth remains: The U.S. is currently the only developed country in the world that does not guarantee any form of paid leave. Only 19% of U.S. civilian workers have access to paid family leave through an employer. This issue is problematic because those who receive no pay during leave are more likely to be younger, to be female, and to have less access to education and savings than those who receive at least some pay.
While eight states and the District of Columbia have now passed or enacted paid leave, there is no national policy. Fortunately, Congress is considering a national standard for paid leave in the form of the Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act (FAMILY Act). This program would pool small contributions to ensure that employees can draw earnings while on leave to care for a new child or a serious personal or family illness. The majority of small businesses support this idea because many of them cannot afford to do so on their own.
Support for this policy exists across the political spectrum. We share the belief that everyone should be able to take time to care for themselves or a loved one without risking their job or economic stability. Acting together, we can make this a reality in the U.S.
To find out more about the issue of paid leave, consider watching Jessica Shortall’s TED talk, “The US needs paid family leave – for the sake of its future.” View the documentary, Zero Weeks, which lays out the costs for all of us in this country’s paid leave crisis, and what do about it. Join Paid Leave for All, a new collaborative of dozens of national organizations committed to winning effective and inclusive paid family and medical leave for everyone.
Our efforts this October can make a brighter future all year-round.
Annie W. Bezbatchenko, Ph.D. is a consultant with Kabrita USA, a new type of formula company whose mission is to empower parents to nourish their child with confidence.
Wendy Chun-Hoon is co-director of Family Values @ Work, a network of 27 state coalitions working for policies like paid family and medical leave.