The 2016 presidential campaign was the first in which Republican candidates, including Donald Trump, called for paid family leave. The GOP’s embrace of this idea is driven by the need to attract more female voters, who are largely in favor of such a program, and to address America’s falling fertility rates.
Last year the number of babies born in the U.S. hit the lowest level in more than three decades, continuing a five-year downward trend. Many women say that the primary reasons for deciding not to have children are cost and the lack of guaranteed paid leave from work.
According to research by the American Medical Association, increases in family leave programs were “associated with drops in perinatal, neonatal, post-neonatal, infant and child mortality” in a sample of industrialized countries. Paid leave allows for bonding time in the most important months of a child’s life. Researchers have found that a lack of such bonding can adversely affect children’s long-term health and resilience.
In 2004, California established a paid family leave program. A recent study by the American Enterprise Institute showed that mothers who accessed the program were more likely to be working in the year following their child’s birth while increasing their involvement with their newborns, both while on leave and after their return to work.
The benefits of paid leave in the state have been particularly clear among low-income populations. For example, the largest increases in breastfeeding rates and duration were seen among low-income parents after the program was established. Further, women who took paid parental leave were nearly 40% less likely to go on public assistance in the first year after having a baby.
Many American workers use sick days, vacation days and other personal days to provide paid time off for family-related events such as childbirth; however, those who need these types of benefits the most aren’t getting them. According to the Council of Economic Advisers, only 40% of workers reported having access to some type of paid leave for the birth of a child.
Moreover, low-wage workers across American have less access to paid family leave programs through their employers, and they are less likely to say they could take any time off from work, even for family-related issues. Women without a college degree in particular are far more likely to lose or quit their jobs in the event of childbirth, resulting in greater costs to society over the long term.
New parents shouldn’t have to choose between their careers and bonding with their children in the first few months of their lives. Paid leave programs improve child health, promote gender equality and keep women in the workforce.
According to a 2017 Pew Research Center survey, 7 in 10 Americans support a paid family and medical leave policy, while 82% of those surveyed said mothers should have the option of paid maternity leave.
With the GOP on board and a broad swath of the country supporting the idea, Congress must act to establish a minimum federal baseline for paid leave that would ensure all American parents receive some support when they take time off after childbirth. Along with California, eight states plus the District of Columbia have paid leave programs, which are funded through payroll taxes, something that should be considered on the federal level.
FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE