I became a new mom in 1987. At the time, I ran my own business out of the house, and my husband, Archie, worked long hours and traveled constantly.
Two years later, we had another son, and I was able to take time away from work for both babies. Becoming a mother was exhilarating, exhausting, wonderful and sometimes overwhelming. I don’t know how we would have managed without time away from work.
I was lucky. I had the flexibility to step away from work briefly. But having time to spend with new babies shouldn’t be a matter of luck. Research shows what every grandmother knows: Parents, babies and families are healthier and stronger when they have time together.
For working families, paid family leave also is an economic issue — without it parents can’t afford to take time off. Yet only 12 percent of American workers have access to paid family leave. More than 60 percent of families rely on two incomes, and women are breadwinners or co-breadwinners in 66 percent of families with children.
Some argue that providing paid family and medical leave should be left up to employers, and that if employers want to attract and keep the best people, they will step up. In fact, this is what many of Minnesota’s large employers do today. Target, Mayo Clinic, General Mills and many others offer paid parental leave because it’s good for their employees and good for business.
Minnesota state government, with 32,000 employees, is now joining these excellent companies. We were proud to announce that state government will provide employees up to six weeks of paid leave when they become parents. The state of Minnesota is only the fourth state government in the country to provide this benefit to families. The next step is for the Minnesota Legislature to formally ratify this agreement between state government and state employees early next year.
We estimate that about 500 state employees who become parents will benefit from paid parental leave every year. Offering paid family leave will help us recruit and retain the next generation of public servants. It is not an expensive benefit to provide, and in fact will help lower the cost of rehiring and recruiting people to fill vacant jobs. Research shows that mothers who receive paid parental leave are significantly more likely to return to work and continue their careers after having a child.
We hope our example encourages more employers to offer paid family leave. But when only 12 percent of workers across the country have access to this essential benefit, we have a long way to go. If we want to help working families get ahead, paid family leave, available to all parents regardless of where they work, makes common sense. It gives parents the freedom to make individual choices for their families without interference.
Paid family leave, available to all families, would also help Minnesota businesses. Minnesota is forecast to have a shortage of more than 100,000 workers by 2020; they need workplaces that make it easier for employees to participate, including those starting families.
I urge Minnesota legislators to formally ratify this agreement. It’s time that state government join other major Minnesota employers like Target, Mayo Clinic, and General Mills in providing paid parental leave. I hope the state’s leadership will encourage more Minnesota employers to offer this important benefit to their workers. It’s time we join more than 40 industrialized countries around the world that offer new parents time to spend with their new babies, without the stress of going without a paycheck.
Tina Smith is lieutenant governor of Minnesota.