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The arrival of a new child should be a time of pure celebration. Sadly, for millions of working parents without paid leave in this country, the joyous occasion can be short-lived. Many of these parents have to make an impossible choice: take time off to recover and care for their new child, or return to work to keep their jobs and protect their families’ economic security.

A mere 11 percent of workers in this country have paid family leave through their employers, and fewer than 40 percent have access to personal medical leave through employer-provided short-term disability insurance. As the sole or co-breadwinners and primary caregivers in the majority of families, working mothers often bear the brunt of these short-sighted policies.

At the National Partnership, we know this all too well. That’s why we drafted and led the fight to pass the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which has enabled millions of workers to take unpaid time off to bond with a new child, recover from illness or care for a sick family member.

Unfortunately, the FMLA passed more than 18 years ago – and Congress hasn’t yet taken the next step to help workers meet the dual demands of work and family. In today’s tough economic times, millions of families cannot afford to take unpaid leave. And only California and New Jersey have passed paid leave programs of their own.

As a result, the country has fallen far behind other nations in supporting its families. In fact, the United States is the only developed country that does not ensure working parents can take job-protected, paid time away from work to care for a new child. A national paid leave standard is long overdue.

That’s why the National Partnership is proud to partner with Working Mother magazine this fall to raise awareness about the urgent need for paid leave in this country.

To get started, we have launched an online petition that will send a clear message to Congress: America’s working parents deserve paid leave! Sign it today, and then make sure everyone you know – every working parent and every person who cares about the health and well-being of our nation – does the same.

Tuesday night, join us on Twitter for a national conversation about paid leave. Share your stories, ask questions of our experts, and connect with fellow working parents and activists committed to making the country more family friendly. The event promises to be a lively, educational exchange. Find all the details here.

There is no question that America’s working parents and children need and deserve a paid leave standard. Together, we can make it happen.

Debra L. Ness is the president of the National Partnership for Women & Families.

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