The need to take time off from work to care for a loved one or to deal with a personal medical condition is a near-universal experience. But right now, the vast majority of American workers do not have access to paid family or medical leave, putting them in the impossible position of choosing between providing care and maintaining a steady income.
Last year, only 19 percent of civilian workers had access to paid family leave through their employer or through a state program, and only 40 percent had short-term disability insurance for their own personal medical issues. Low-wage workers were even less likely to have access. Although federal law currently requires employers to provide unpaid leave to qualified workers, the eligibility requirements exclude about 40 percent of private sector workers. And nearly half of eligible workers report that they simply cannot afford to take unpaid time off work.
Lack of paid leave squeezes families in a variety of ways. It results in lower earnings for those who must take unpaid leave to provide care. It deprives children and their parents of crucial bonding and recovery time after childbirth. And it can negatively affect caregivers’ ability to stay in the workforce and achieve higher earnings over time.
Inability to access paid leave is particularly harmful for families of color, who have experienced systemic racism that leaves them with less wealth to draw on for unpaid leave and a greater likelihood of experiencing chronic health conditions. Further, black mothers face particular challenges in balancing care for their families and themselves against their families’ economic security, as they are far more likely to be the primary source of economic support for their families.
Our country’s failure to ensure paid family and medical leave hurts American families and our economy overall. The United States is the only OECD country that does not require any paid leave for new parents. Providing paid leave can increase labor force participation and lifetime earnings, especially for women, boosting economic productivity.
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has been a tireless advocate for national paid leave. Elizabeth is committed to adopting and building on Senator Gillibrand’s work by fighting to make paid family and medical leave available to all workers. Elizabeth will fight for up to 12 weeks of paid family or medical leave in a one year period to care for a newborn or newly adopted child; to act as caregiver to a spouse, child, parent, domestic partner, or chosen family member with a serious health condition; to deal with the worker’s own serious medical condition; or address specific military caregiving needs.
Workers would receive 66% of their salary, capped at $4,000 per month, with a minimum payment of $580 per month. Unlike our current unpaid federal leave system, which is limited to businesses with over 50 employees, paid family and medical leave would be available to anyone who meets the work history requirements for Social Security Disability Insurance.
Paid family and medical leave would have huge implications for American workers. Based on the Bureau of Labor Statistic’s figures, about 113 million American workers who do not have access to paid family leave could gain access, and almost 84 million workers could gain access to short-term disability coverage. Experts estimate that the lack of paid family and medical leave costs American workers about $20 billion a year. National paid family and medical leave would put that money into American workers’ pockets and into the economy. And research on state-based programs shows that paid leave isn’t just good for workers - it’s good for businesses: in California, 87% of businesses reported no increased costs as a result of the state’s paid leave program, and 9% reported a cost savings.
Elizabeth is calling for big, structural changes that rewrite the rules of our economy, and paid family and medical leave is no exception. Paid leave gives workers the power to make decisions that are right for their families without fear of financial consequences. That would be a game-changer for American families - and a big step toward building an economy that works for all of us.