"Many folks don't have access to any kind of family leave policies whatsoever, no flexible working arrangements, many people don't even have a paid sick day. So they are struggling…scrambling to make things work…As we all know, here today, it just doesn't have to be that way. It doesn't have to be that hard…"
Sound familiar? No, it's not a quote from last week's email from MomsRising; it's First Lady Michelle Obama talking yesterday at a White House Forum on Workplace Flexibility.
Yes! Brava! The policies that she lists in her speech are exactly what we all need to meet the demands of today's 21st century economy where women are now half the labor force. Now, let's make sure Congress heard this message loud and clear.
Congress is currently considering laws that would give more people flexibility, update our family economic security policies to reflect our modern times, and allow companies to benefit from people being able to work smarter. These bills won't move forward if they don't hear from constituents that we need these policies now.
Why are paid family and medical leave, flexible work options, and paid sick days so important?
Right now 80% of low wage workers, and nearly half of all private sector workers, don't have access to a single paid sick day. And, in the U.S., only 49% of new mothers are able to cobble together paid leave following childbirth by using sick days, vacation days, disability leave, and maternity leave. The rest must either quit needed jobs, take unpaid leave, or go back to work only days or weeks after delivering a baby or adopting a child. With this situation, it's no wonder that having a baby is a leading cause of a "poverty spell" in our nation--a time when income dips below what's needed for food and rent.
Over 170 countries have some form of paid leave for new moms after the birth of a new baby and the U.S. isn't one of those nations. In fact, we join Papua New Guinea, Swaziland, and Liberia as one of the four nations who stand out as not having such a policy.
Families need these policies so that they can work and also do the essential unpaid work of caring for each other. And research has shown that such policies are also good for companies' bottom lines. For example, a just-released report by the President's Council of Economic Advisers found that, "Adopting flexible practices can potentially boost productivity, improve morale, and benefit the U.S. economy. Especially at this time as the U.S. rebuilds after the Great Recession, it is critical for the 21st century U.S. workplace to be organized for the 21st century workforce."
Now's the time to build the MOMentum.
The White House Forum on Workplace Flexibility brought together business leaders, experts, advocates, and policymakers in a conversation about addressing the real needs of families in the U.S. who are struggling under the realities of a 21st century economy -- where women are now half of the labor force, the majority of families need two parents working to make ends meet, and budgets are tighter than ever. Ideas were discussed like more people getting the option to request flexible work schedules, and everyone having access to paid sick days, and paid family leave as is the norm in most other nations.
The Forum is a great start, and we fully agree with First Lady Michelle Obama that, "It doesn't have to be that hard." But in order to build MOMentum for these important policies, and to see real change move through Congress to the President's desk to help families and businesses thrive in our modern economy, we've got to act now!