Is Paid Family Leave the Path to the White House?
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.