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Valerie Young's picture

I will be strapping on my snow boots and slogging up the Hill later this week to see star legislators Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Representative Rosa DeLauro introduce a bill that would provide most workers with 12 weeks of partially paid leave for a birth, adoption, or to deal with their own or a family member's serious medical condition. This is a BIG deal, for a number of reasons, available here from the National Partnership for Women & Families. Which one is the most important to you?

1.     The U.S. is the lone hold out of all industrial nations (and most of the world) in not  having a guaranteed paid maternity leave policy. Other countries offer up to 40 or more weeks of paid leave for mothers, and the United Kingdom just passed a bill that allows moms and dads to share 50 weeks of paid leave, in addition to two weeks solely dedicated to the mother's recovery from childbirth.

2.     Mothers and new babies would both enjoy better health with time to bond, establish a sustained breastfeeding routine, and get follow up care, newborn check ups and immunizations.

3.     With women in the paid labor force in record numbers, in an economic climate that demands both parents work, there is simply no one at home to look after a seriously ill parent, spouse or child during recovery from or treatment for a serious illness.

4.     Paid leave keeps parents, especially mothers, connected to the paid labor force, thus improving the family's economic security over the long term, and avoiding periods of unemployment which can devastate a family's ability to cover basic expenses and wipe out savings.

5.     Employers will see reduced turnover and retraining costs, and increased employee engagement, retention, loyalty and productivity.

Frankly, I can't pick just one reason - a paid leave bill is good policy all the way around, for family members who need care, the caregivers, and the employers for whom they work. And it's affordable, too. The income replacement available under the new bill would be financed by a small contribution from both the worker and employer, about two cents for every $10 of wages.   When you think about what families are up against these days, a paid leave program is just a "no-brainer". The recession has shown that hanging on to a job is an absolute must. Losing one because you gave birth, or had to help your parent recover from a stroke, or care for a dying family member, is a catastrophe that can be avoided, and at minimal cost. We give such short shrift to the caring connections in families, and public programs that feed and shelter the vulnerable (like SNAP, WIC and TANF) have been cut by the sequester and are always under attack by deficit hawks. Preserving the connection to self-sufficiency through employment so that it can withstand a temporary family emergency allows families to care for each other without resorting to underfunded public programs paid for with tax dollars.

Think of what we're up against today with work and family obligations, saving for college and saving for retirement, being the parents we want to be, providing both financially and emotionally for our families. We can't do it all, at least not all the time - life just isn't like that. As I heard from a father who responded to my recent New York Times Sunday Dialogue feature, families today are stretched too thin:  “I am divorced  and ‘withering away’ because my ex and I never did figure out a way to both work AND both be good parents AND keep good health insurance AND care for aging parents AND have time left for love in any form (dinner out/a movie/even sex after a while) (neither of our kids is in college yet - how the heck we're going to  pay for that - my head starts to explode every time I think about it). We NEVER stopped loving each other. The cost of being good parents simply broke us."

It's the shattering cost of NOT having paid family leave which should be worrying us.

'Til next time,

Your (Wo)Man in Washington

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