By Vicki Shabo, Director of Work and Family Programs, National Partnership for Women & Families
Mother’s Day. It’s a day when we shower the mothers in our lives with well-deserved compliments and gifts that show our appreciation. The heartfelt thanks, expressed in cards, flowers and chocolates, certainly have their place, but mothers today also need something much more lasting – policies that let them meet their own needs and those of their families.
Today, too many mothers have to choose between the health and wellbeing of their families and their economic security because the United States lacks comprehensive policies that support working parents. Policies like paid family leave, paid sick days and protections for breastfeeding mothers go a long way in helping working parents manage the dual demands of work and family, and too few states have put these policies in place. Nor has the federal government.
Mothers want and need these policies. That’s why, for this Mother’s Day, we created an interactive map that outlines the existing and pending family friendly laws in each state. The map paints a picture of a nation with a long way to go to meet the needs of mothers, fathers and the countless family members who depend on them.
It’s time for a family friendly America. A country where all workers can make enough to pay the bills and support their families, and have workplace protections that allow them to care for their children, spouses, parents and loved ones. In this America, no mother would be forced to sacrifice her job and financial security because her child gets sick and needs care. No child would have critical preventive care delayed because his parents couldn’t afford to miss work, or risk their jobs. And no older adult would be unnecessarily forced into costly institutional care because her child couldn’t take leave from work to help care for her.
A few states have made real progress toward this vision by enacting legislation that expands upon federal law in significant ways. California, for example, passed a paid family leave law in 2002 that allows both private and public-sector workers to take up to six weeks of leave with partial pay to care for a new child or a seriously ill family member. It was a major victory for California families and has been proven a big success. New Jersey has a similarly designed and successful program. Unfortunately, these programs are few and far between.
Nationally, we have the Family and Medical Leave Act – a historic piece of legislation that has enabled millions of workers to take job-protected time away from work to recover from an illness or care for a loved one. But millions of workers either aren’t eligible or cannot afford to take the unpaid leave it provides.
Some further progress came last year with a provision in the health reform law that guarantees breastfeeding mothers a time and place to express breast milk when they return to work.
But even with these advances, progress is simply too slow for working mothers and their families.
So this month, as we show our love for the mothers in our lives and buy those flowers and chocolates, let’s also spend time thinking about how we can build a country that is truly family friendly. You can even share your thoughts with us here. Find out what is happening in your state and commit to getting involved. Talk to your elected officials about the importance of policies that demonstrate a true commitment to improving the lives of working families. And then, together, let’s build a truly family friendly America – the best gift we can give our mothers.
Cross-posted at the National Partnership for Women & Families.