Gender inequality in the United States remains a pressing issue. The gender wage gap is a classic example of this: In the United States, women made on average 80 cents for every dollar men made in 2017. There are many factors that affect women’s earnings, including education, work experience, and discrimination.
One key factor is family leave and childcare. Working women in the United States are more likely than men to experience career interruptions to care for a child or family member. Unfortunately, under federal law, those who do take family leave aren’t guaranteed pay during this time.
The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) does provide certain employees up to 12 weeks of job-protected, unpaid time off to recover from an illness, take care of a family member with an illness, or take care of a new child. However, not everyone qualifies for FMLA. For example, an employee needs to have worked at their current employer for at least a year, and their worksite must be within 75 miles of a location where their company employs 50 or more people. These restrictions mean that around 40 percent of U.S. workers aren’t covered by FMLA.
Further, FMLA only offers unpaid leave. The United States is the sole member of the OECD, a global organization of 34 democracies, that doesn’t guarantee paid parental leave. Currently, only six states plus Washington, D.C. have passed laws for paid family and medical leave. Eighty-three percent of American workers don’t receive paid family leave, meaning that many women have to choose between earning money and caring for their families.
What is the FAMILY Act?
To address this, the Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act (FAMILY Act) was introduced in Congress in 2013 and reintroduced in 2015 and 2017. The bill is sponsored by Rep Rosa Delauro (D-Connecticut) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), and would provide up to 12 weeks of partially paid leave to care for a new child, take care of a seriously ill family member, or recover from a serious illness.
Under the FAMILY Act, workers would receive two-thirds of their monthly pay each month, up to a specific amount. The act would establish an Office of Paid Family and Medical Leave within the Social Security Administration that would manage the program. The FAMILY Act would apply to people who aren’t eligible for FMLA, such as self-employed workers and people working at companies with fewer than 50 employees.
Why Do We Need It?
A national paid family leave program would be a powerful way to promote gender equity in the United States. Since women still perform the majority of the childcare, paid family leave would contribute to narrowing the gender wage gap by ensuring that women don’t need to choose between taking leave and earning money.
The FAMILY Act would also encourage more men to take leave to care for their families. California’s paid family leave program increased the estimated leave-taking of fathers during a child’s first year by 46 percent, and paid family leave claims filed by men in the state have increased more than 400 percent since the program’s implementation in 2004.
Women benefit when their husbands take paid leave. A 2010 paper from the Swedish Institute for Labour Market Policy Analysis found that the earnings of working mothers increased by 6.7 percent for every month that their spouses were on paid parental leave, suggesting that paid parental leave could be effective in narrowing the gender wage gap. When husbands take parental leave, their wives can return to the workforce sooner. Research also finds that fathers who take paternity leave are more likely to participate in childcare duties. When fathers are involved in childcare early on, this can lead to a more equal split of responsibilities between both parents.
It’s clear that a national paid family leave program would empower women and promote gender equity in the United States in multiple ways. It’s high time that Congress pass the FAMILY Act so Americans can finally experience the benefits of paid family leave that people in so many other countries have.
WRITE TO CONGRESS!
Let your representatives know that you support paid family leave!
Melissa Young is a writer and former copy editor from the San Francisco Bay Area who is passionate about social justice, feminism, and the Oxford comma. Her current work as a legal writer finds her drafting visa petitions that enable people to immigrate to the USA. She sustains herself by making music, drinking boba milk tea, and having existential conversations.