October 22, 2015

COMMON SENSE | Paid Family Leave

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By GUNJAN HOOJA

It’s the U.S., Papua New Guinea and Oman, otherwise known as the cool kids club. These three are the only countries in the entire world with no paid maternity leave law. It should be an utter embarrassment for the US to be such a category. However, I am happy that this topic is finally getting the attention that it deserves and has become a national policy talking point in this recent upcoming election.

What boggles my mind is that as a young woman I know that in the future if I ever decide to have kids, the considerations I will have to take into account will be far more than any man. Let’s go step by step through this issue.

1) If I decide to have a child in the future, as of now there is no law mandating that I get paid for my time off.

I better hope that the company I work for provides paid leave even though the law does not require them to. Because there is no requirement, most U.S. employers don’t offer paid family leave. So let me get this straight: I am expected to give life to a tiny human being and then if I am not fortunate enough to be able to take unpaid time off, I’ll have to go back to work very soon?

According to thinkprogress.org, “40 percent of first time mothers are forced to take unpaid leave, including a quarter who either quit or are fired when their babies arrive.” Really, what century are we living in?

2) Having a child to many women feels like putting their career on hold and feeling like they’ll have to start all over again.

In a recent conversation with a new mother, she told me that she distinctly was not excited about the prospect of going back to work because it would feel as though she had to start from square one. To combat this problem and this feeling that many new mothers experience when returning to work, it is essential that paid family leave not only be offered to new mothers but to new fathers as well. By only making such a policy available to women our society and government support the idea that it is the woman’s job to take time off and care for the new child. Instead we should be moving in a more progressive direction where the responsibilities and challenges of having a new child are split between the partners, and that includes taking time off of work.

Additionally, work environments and cultures need to change so that taking time off for parental leave becomes very much a norm. Companies such as Netflix, Facebook and Nestle are definitely heading in the right direction — they’re lengthening the time of paid family leave and encouraging their workers to actually take it.

3) Many opponents of such a policy cite economic reasons to support their argument.

This may seem to be plausible on the surface, but when looked at and thought about for one second more, it loses all its substance. If a parental leave policy actually had adverse economic effects then why is the U.S. one of only three countries in the world that does not have federally mandated paid family leave? Are the economies of the rest of the world collapsing? Are their businesses, especially small ones, crashing under the pressure of this policy? Of course not. Additionally, the White House itself has released a report on the economics of paid and unpaid leave and found that there is growing evidence that leave, whether paid or unpaid, can benefit families without costing a business. They also found that such leave “can have positive effects on long term productivity by improving recruitment, retention and employee motivation.”

4) Paid leave is an important aspect of gender-equality, especially in the workforce.

Even in 2015 working women face numerous challenges in the workplace. From the wage gap to the struggle of just being heard, women still have to fight a glass ceiling that is very real. Paid family leave is a common sense policy that the country needs to put into law so that one more step toward gender equality can be taken. No woman should ever have to be in a position in which she has to leave her child and go back to work before she is comfortable. It should never be the case that a woman has to choose between her career and having a child. There should be simple policies in place that render such a choice unnecessary.

Concluding thoughts:

For the women who want to jump back into the workforce after having a child: I applaud you. But for women who want to take time off, there should be no reason — especially financially — that they are not able to. For being one of the most developed countries, the U.S. really has a lot of catching up to do in this category. I urge the U.S. to look at every other country in the world (except Papau New Guinea and Oman) and follow their example in terms of paid family leave.

However, the sad truth remains that of the people making the laws in this country, over 80 percent will never be mothers that have to face the hard decision between being with their child or going back to work. With an 80 to 20 percent ratio of males to females in Congress, I am not surprised that such a policy hasn’t been passed and that the U.S. is left in such exclusive club with Papua New Guinea and Oman.

This just means that this coming election is all the more critical. Being citizens, we hold one distinct source of power and that is that we get to decide who our representatives will be. Young people — especially young women — need to get out there and vote for the people who will do everything in their power to turn such a policy into law. That is the power I have and you’re damn right I’ll use it.

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