Examining the Paid Family Leave Act and its future

This week in North Philly Notes, Megan Sholar, author of Getting Paid While Taking Time, writes about the presidential candidates’ paid family leave policies.

On November 8, Americans will go to the polls to choose a new president of the United States. This election cycle has been marred by scandal and personal attacks, and policy issues have often taken a backseat. In such a climate, it would have been easy to miss the announcements from Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump in support of paid family leave. But the significance of this moment should not be overlooked: It is the first time in U.S. history that both major party presidential candidates have proposed paid family leave policies.

Many Americans are shocked to discover that the United States is one of only eight countries in the world—and the only industrialized nation—that does not guarantee any type of paid family leave at the national level. Hillary Clinton wants to change this by implementing her plan to ensure that employees taking leave through the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) receive at least two-thirds of their wages (up to a ceiling). Benefits would be available for up to twelve weeks to both women and men who become parents through pregnancy, surrogacy, or adoption. Employees would also be covered if they are caring for a family member with a serious illness or injury, or if they are suffering from their own serious medical issue. Clinton’s program would be funded through increased taxes on the wealthy.

Donald Trump’s approach differs from Clinton’s in many ways. He proposes six weeks of paid maternity leave for women who give birth and work in a company that does not currently provide paid leave. The plan would be administered through the Unemployment Insurance (UI) program. In essence, women would receive unemployment benefits to cover a portion of their salary while on leave; benefit levels vary by state. Funding for Trump’s program would come from eliminating fraud in the UI system.

In the past, paid family leave policies have been sponsored primarily by Democrats. Republicans have generally opposed such policies, labeling them as big government interference into Americans’ private lives. Although Clinton advocates a more comprehensive approach to paid family leave, Trump has broken new ground by becoming the first Republican presidential nominee to put forward any type of paid leave policy. So how did we get here?

getting-paid_smIn Getting Paid While Taking Time, I tackle this question by explaining the development of family leave legislation at both the national and state levels in the United States. Long a laggard on the issue, the United States did not even offer unpaid family leave until the FMLA was passed in 1993. By contrast, almost all developed nations provided women some form of paid maternity leave by World War II.

In the more than two decades since the passage of the FMLA, little has changed at the federal level. However, there has been significant progress at the state and municipal levels. Three states—California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island—have successfully implemented paid leave programs. Beginning in 2018, New York will also guarantee paid family leave. Dozens of cities and counties across the country now cover the cost of paid leave for municipal employees, and San Francisco has adopted the first city-wide paid parental leave law in the United States.

To understand these developments, I pay particular attention to the role that women’s movement actors and other activists (e.g., labor unions and critical actors in the government) play in the policy-making process, while similarly exploring the influence of opposition movements—especially business interests. I also consider the effects of partisanship, noting that governments controlled by Democrats are significantly more likely to adopt paid family leave policies than Republican-led governments. Ultimately in Getting Paid While Taking Time, I present a detailed account of the main reasons that the United States remains the only industrialized country without paid family leave at the national level.

Only 13 percent of workers in the United States have access to paid family leave through their employers; this lack of paid leave hurts women, men, children, families, and businesses. As the 2016 election demonstrates, politicians on both sides of the aisle have now begun to recognize the detrimental effects that this policy dearth has on workers and their families, and they are working to rectify it. This change of heart is largely a result of the tireless activism of family leave advocates. It has taken a long time to get to this point, but if we continue in the direction we are headed, the United States may soon join the rest of the developed world on family leave.

 

 

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: