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Wednesday, July 9th, 2014
Could support for paid family leave be the centerpiece of a Hillary Clinton presidential campaign in 2016? In The Daily Beast, Michael Tomasky argues for just that, saying that Clinton should make “paid family leave a—no; the!—central plank” of her presumed run for the presidency. Tomasky is just offering advice and not reporting that this is actually under consideration, but his argument is persuasive that this issue is a winner.
I can’t agree more. Let’s look at the facts of the situation and then the politics of it:
The fact of the matter is that the United States is last among developed countries—final, end of the list—in legally mandating paid leave, with a grand total of zero weeks. Not a single day of paid family leave is guaranteed by law to new parents. Instead, the Family and Medical Leave Act, signed into law by none other than Pres. Bill Clinton, guarantees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for workers in companies covered by the law. Between the lack of any pay during that period, the measly three-month length, and the relatively high number of companies not covered by the law, this not exactly a generous policy.
Elsewhere in the world, however, Tomasky reports, workers are entitled to large chunks of paid time off to focus on their children: “In France, it’s 100 percent for 16 weeks. Mon dieu, you say, that’s France. But in Germany, which even American conservatives respect a little more in economic terms, it’s 100 percent pay for 14 weeks, and 65 percent for an astonishing 12 to 14 months.”
Our neighbors to the north and south also put us to shame in this department: Canadian moms get 15 weeks of leave at 55% of their pay, plus the couple get an additional 35 weeks at the same pay rate to split between them however they see fit. In Mexico, moms get 12 weeks at 100% of pay. There’s no reason for U.S. parents to be without any paid leave. (Andrew Sullivan of The Dish posted a sobering chart illustrating just how behind we are.)
Then there’s the politics. Paid family leave has long been a dream of political liberals and a nightmare to business interests, who would be forced to pay employee’s salaries during periods when they are not working. But, as Tomasky points out, the idea of paid leave enjoys wide support among the public, and it’s hard to see women, even those with conservative, pro-business political leanings, opposing it. They and their families stand to benefit greatly from it. “A survey commissioned in 2012 by a pro-leave group found that respondents supported the idea by 63 to 29 percent,” Tomasky writes. “Democrats were of course strongly in favor (85-10), but independents were at a still quite favorable 54-34, and even Republicans weren’t against it—they were evenly split at 47-48.”
For Clinton, who usually plays her politics safely, it would be a bold stance that would at once show her independence—by hewing to the left and taking a risky stance contrary to her usual centrist leanings—while also remaining absolutely true to her pro-family, pro-woman concerns she’s focused on throughout her public career. In short, it’s an issue that is bound to be immensely popular, despite vocal and well-funded detractors.
I would add to Tomasky’s analysis that rallying support for paid family leave has the potential to attract religious conservatives for whom the health and strength of the family is paramount. It’s hard to imagine a policy that would do more for families than one that allows more parents to spend more time with their new babies (or ailing family members) without worrying about losing their income. Too many parents now have to make a choice between spending that crucial time with their newborns or paying the bills, because they cannot do both without paid leave. Family-values conservatives joining liberals and women from across the political spectrum would comprise an impressively powerful coalition to advance this cause.
In addition, it’s important to remember that paid family leave is not just beneficial to women. Men would also be covered by paid paternity-leave policies, allowing them to spend the time being fathers and bonding with their children that they otherwise could not afford to. And the real winners here, of course, are the children who would have more time with their parents at home.
Lastly, I’d argue that the idea should not be confined to a Hillary Clinton candidacy or pigeonholed as her thing, lest it end up buried in partisan combat (which, of course, it might anyway). It is a policy whose time has long past come and I’d invite–expect–any candidate from any party who claims to be pro-family to take up the cause.
Plus: Use our stay-at-home calculator to find out if you can afford to give up your job and stay home with your kids full time.
Image of Hillary Clinton via Shutterstock.
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Wednesday, May 14th, 2014
Whenever a conversation turns to the Family and Medical Leave Act, which allows new mothers to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave after the birth of a child, I always think about a friend who gave birth to both of her sons here in the United States.
Had she delivered in her native Ireland, she would’ve gotten paid for 26 weeks, plus 16 more unpaid.
If she’d had her babies when she’d been living in London, she would’ve gotten up to 52 weeks off, up to 39 of them at least partially paid.
And if she’d given birth while living in South Africa, where she and her husband are raising their family now, she would’ve been given at least 16 weeks off, though not necessarily paid. Even if she’d wanted to go back after four or five weeks, as so many moms in our country must, it wouldn’t have been easy. South African law states that “Workers may not go back to work within 6 weeks after the birth unless their doctor or midwife say it is safe.”
My point is, our leave policy is seriously lacking. The countries I listed above aren’t even as generous as it gets (countries like Croatia and Denmark give new moms a full 52 weeks of paid leave), but they illustrate how far we fall short.
This is just one of the many flaws outlined in a comprehensive Huffington Post piece addressing all of the reasons it’s tricky for moms to work outside the home. The post is based on a recent Pew report which found that the percentage of moms of kids under age 18 who would prefer to work full-time outside the home jumped from 20 percent in 2007 to 32 percent in 2012. It’s fascinating, isn’t it, to think that of every three stay-at-home moms you know, at least one would rather be working outside the home, if only it were easier to pull off?
And yet this echoes what we found when we surveyed mothers last year for our story on the so-called Mommy Wars. Of the moms who stay at home, 60 percent said they would get a job if there were more options for part-time work or quality and affordable day care.
The HuffPo piece cites research from Child Care Aware America which found that in 31 states, daycare is more expensive than in-state tuition and fees at public colleges. The cost has doubled in the last few decades, and for some families, child care costs can account for nearly 40 percent of their income.
But it’s not like families who use full-time babysitters, or who have their school-age children in before-care or after-care, have it easy by comparison. Every working parent knows the panic that arises when your child wakes up sick in the middle of the night–the simultaneous “I feel so badly that you’re sick” and “Holy crap, I have to go to work tomorrow.” Our society simply hasn’t embraced the concept of a flex work environment. Sure, lots of us (myself included) have understanding bosses, but that’s just great luck. It’s nothing we’re entitled to. And if we’re a middle- or low-wage earner, research shows we’re far less likely to experience that kind of goodwill, and far more likely to feel real repercussions if we stay home from work with a sick child, or duck out for a teacher conference. How is that okay?
There are so many more obstacles in our way, including how tough it can be to breastfeed at work and even how our culture views stay-at-home dads (less than, somehow). When I start to feel it’s all hopeless, I remember organizations like MomsRising (“where moms and the people who love them go to change the world”). Among the issues this inspiring group takes on are flex schedules and maternity and paternity leave (don’t even get me started on our pathetic paternity leave policies and how they stack up against other countries’). It’s a great site to visit if you, like me, wonder if there’s anything we can really do to change the sad state of affairs for working parents. You’ll quickly see that yes, there are actions we can take. We just have to carve out the time.
Image: Work or family symbol via Shutterstock.
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Thursday, April 3rd, 2014
The New York Mets are—and I say this with all the love and frustration of a lifelong fan—a woeful team that even the most optimistic among us expect to have a lousy year. So, of all the players on the team, why is second baseman Daniel Murphy taking heat from sports commentators? Because he missed the first two games of the new season, taking a paternity leave to be there for the birth of his son.
Yes, you read that right. Two games. To be at the birth of his son. And here’s what that oh-so-lengthy absence left some well-known sports-radio personalities saying, according to the New York Daily News:
“Assuming the birth went well, the wife is fine, the baby is fine, 24 hours and then you get your ass back to your team and you play baseball.”
And from another: “One day [off] I understand. And in the old days they didn’t do that. But one day, go see the baby be born and come back. You’re a Major League Baseball player. You can hire a nurse to take care of the baby if your wife needs help.”
For dads, how long to take off after baby’s birth can be a tough call. Despite the fact that the Family and Medical Leave Act guarantees up to 12 unpaid weeks of leave for men and women alike, not many fathers take more than a few days off when their little one arrives. There’s pressure from employers to contend with, and the self-imposed pressure (real or imagined) of wanting to be seen in the best light at work, not to mention cultural forces about men’s roles to content with. And, of course, unpaid leave is an economic pressure for nearly everyone and an impossibility for many—major-league ballplayers excluded.
To slam Murphy’s two-game leave as treasonous is absurd. Here’s what he had to say to ESPN about the brouhaha, referring to his wife and his desire to be there for her:
“It’s going to be tough for her to get up to New York for a month. I can only speak from my experience — a father seeing his wife – she was completely finished. I mean, she was done. She had surgery and she was wiped. Having me there helped a lot, and vice versa, to take some of the load off…. It felt, for us, like the right decision to make.”
While he was away, I am sure Murphy was thinking of his team often and even missing them, just as he will be thinking of his newborn back home as he dedicates himself to his team for the remainder of the season. Finding the right work-life balance is no easier for a multimillionaire baseball player than it is for you and me, and we all feel torn between our commitments to our families, our jobs, and ourselves.
I struggled with these issues as well. Taking two weeks off when each of my daughters was born was a no-brainer. But now, as my wife heads back to work after her own five-month maternity leave, I am on the threshold of a longer paternity leave—five weeks, starting Monday. Making the decision to take the time off involved a lot of intense discussions with my wife and internal soul-searching about what is most important to me and how I want to spend and remember this time in my life. Stepping back, even for a few weeks, from a job that is busy and that means a lot to me, is scary, and it remains something that is never easy.
Far from criticizing Murphy’s leave, we should be celebrating it. The more of us who take time to be with our families, the better it is—for ourselves, our kids, and our wives or partners. And the more men who take paternity leave, the better it will be for all new fathers, because over time, it will become normal and expected, not something to criticize or even remark on. Especially seeing athletes do it, those most manly of professionals, will hopefully encourage others to do the same. Yes, there are occasionally things that are more important than supporting the team. Instead of criticizing, let’s look to a future in which taking time to be with our kids is the norm, not the exception, and in which a mere two days is laughably short.
See you in May. Until then, I’m off daddying.
Murphy and his wife named their newborn Noah. Try our Baby Name Finder to discover the perfect name for your newest addition!
Image: New York Mets Daniel Murphy and wife Victoria Tori Ahern attend the Aces, Inc. All Star party at Marquee on July 14, 2013 in New York City via Shutterstock.
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