Paid leave is gaining steam

Story highlights

  • Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner: With women occupying 50% of the labor force, U.S. public policies are much outdated
  • Small businesses will benefit from a national paid family and medical leave policy, she says

Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner is executive director and co-founder of MomsRising.org, a nonprofit national organization that supports policies to improve family economic security. The views expressed are her own.

(CNN)Hillary Clinton: "I believe in equal pay for equal work for women, but I also believe it's about time we had paid family leave for American families and join the rest of the world."

Bernie Sanders: "We are the only major country ... it's an international embarrassment that we do not provide family -- paid family and medical leave."
Martin O'Malley: "I have to agree with Secretary Clinton and Sen. Sanders. Look, the genius of our nation is that we find ways in every generation to include more of our people more fully in the economic life of our country. ... We would be a stronger nation economically if we had paid family leave."
    Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner
    Hear that? That's the sound of a sea change.
    Top leaders have long de-emphasized family economic security policies such as paid family and medical leave insurance, relegating these policies to side conversations off center stage, but during Tuesday night's Democratic debate, we heard Hillary Clinton, Martin O'Malley and Bernie Sanders outspokenly advocate for the expansion of paid family and medical leave in the United States for all working people to resounding applause.
    Plain and simple, this issue is on the agenda for American voters -- and no candidate can expect to get elected without having a plan to fix our outdated policies so our families and businesses have the basic economic tools they need to succeed.
    The fact that paid family leave is garnering more attention from the presidential candidates (on both sides of the aisle) and made the center stage at the Democratic debate Tuesday isn't an accident. It's also not an accident that Sen. Marco Rubio recently brought forward a proposal relating to paid family leave. Moms and their families across the country are suffering under our nation's antiquated family economic security policies.
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    It's past time for an update. Women are now about 50% of the labor force for the first time in history, yet the nation's public policies lag behind the rest of the world. In fact, the United States is the only industrialized nation in the world that does not provide families with the opportunity to earn paid family and medical leave to care for newborn infants or elderly, sick loved ones, or to deal with their own illness. Now that moms are 40% of all primary family breadwinners, these policies are a basic economic necessity for our families, our businesses and our economy to thrive.
    A paid family and medical leave insurance policy that covers all workers is a major priority for the more than 1 million members of MomsRising. And we have been fighting to achieve that at the city, state and federal levels, along with other policies that boost our economy and our families. It's a major priority for the American public, too, with one poll finding that 81% of voters, including 94% of Democrats, 80% of independents and 65% of Republicans, agree that these kinds of policies are "good for our nation."
    This isn't an experimental policy that could "break the bank," as some have said. It's been tested and proven to help families, businesses and the economy. The proof is in the impact it has had in other countries and several U.S. states. In fact, only two out of 185 countries studied (the United States and Papua New Guinea) don't have this policy in place -- and several states in the United States have stepped up to move this policy forward with excellent outcomes.
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    A 2011 study of the California Paid Family Leave program found most employers reported that providing paid family leave had a positive effect on productivity, profitability and performance, turnover and employee morale. Also, a national study, Pay Matters: The Positive Economic Impacts of Paid Family Leave for Families, Businesses and the Public, conducted by Linda Houser and Thomas P. Vartanian for the Center for Women and Work at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, found that moms with access to paid family leave were more likely to be in the labor force one year after having a child and significantly less likely to rely on government programs, saving taxpayer dollars. A win-win.
    Moving a national paid family and medical leave policy forward also helps level the playing field for small businesses so they can better compete with other businesses that already have this policy in place. Why? Because current proposed legislation for a national policy makes this an affordable program for everyone covered by Social Security by using a social insurance payment mechanism with a small employee and employer payroll contribution of about two-tenths of 1% each, which is only about $1.50 per week for a typical worker.
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    We need paid family and medical leave, and we need it now. Only 13% of U.S. workers -- and only 5% of low wage workers -- have access to paid family and medical leave after a new baby arrives, even though more than half of all new mothers work outside the home for pay. The lack of paid family and medical leave can drive families below the poverty level. Too often the pay gap that happens when a new mom has to take unpaid leave after the birth of a baby is coupled with the sky-high cost of child care, setting families back financially for years to come. That's one reason that right now, a quarter of young families are living in poverty.
    We can do better.
    The writing is on the wall: It's time to move forward with paid family and medical leave insurance for everyone in our nation. A patchwork approach where you have to win the "boss lottery" to be covered hurts our families and our economy. Any candidate who wants to be president needs to be clear about his or her position on advancing paid family and medical leave insurance for everyone -- and on plans to create a country where families and businesses can thrive.