I agree with the article but wanted more info on challenges of the post-baby years. I'm too late for the paid family leave benefit, but I was lucky to be able to take off seven months after my kids were born (though unpaid). At the time, I was more concerned about time than money. And time is still the biggest challenge for me.
This year is shaping up to be a big one for paid family leave.
On Thursday, the Independent Democratic Conference, a breakaway group of New York state senators, plans to introduce 12 weeks of paid leave as part of its legislative agenda; Gov. Andrew Cuomo is reportedly considering similar legislation. At the end of 2015, Bill de Blasio, the mayor of New York, signed an executive order giving 20,000 city employees six weeks of fully paid leave after the birth or adoption of a child.
Nationally, meanwhile, some presidential candidates — the Democrats and at least one Republican, Marco Rubio — are making it a campaign issue.
But for all the political sparring and lobbying to pass paid leave laws, they address just a sliver of the challenges that working families face.
After the first few weeks of a child’s life, working parents have at least 18 more years to juggle work and child rearing. And many of the policies don’t address the huge numbers of workers who need time to care for ailing parents or spouses or to deal with their own health problems.
“It doesn’t take three months to raise a child,” said Joan Williams, founding director of the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California, Hastings. “Paid leave is a drop in the bucket. It’s a very important drop, but it’s a very empty bucket.”
The United States is the only industrialized country to offer no paid family or sick leave (the Family and Medical Leave Act gives certain employees 12 weeks of unpaid leave.) Advocates say state and local paid leave laws are a first step — if a small one — toward addressing the bigger issues.
“We recognize the standards we’re working for are minimum and minimal, but we’re trying to help educate people,” said Ellen Bravo, executive director of Family Values @ Work, a network of groups pushing for paid leave.
Though a national policy seems far-fetched in the current political climate, some policy makers are trying. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democrat of New York, and Representative Rosa DeLauro, a Democrat of Connecticut, have introduced the Family Act, which would give Americans paid time off to care for babies or sick family members.
They would pay for it by creating a trust fund within the Social Security Administration. Employers and employees would each contribute 0.2 percent of wages, so business and government would not have to pay when workers took time off. That model is similar to the one in the three states that offer paid family leave; California, New Jersey and Rhode Island finance it through payroll taxes for existing temporary disability programs. The New York State Senate proposal would also do this.
Yet even a national policy would not address a deeper problem in the American workplace, people who study the issue say: a culture of overwork. Americans’ hours have increased sharply over the last four decades, according to Current Population Survey data. Earners in the 60th to 95th percentile work an average of 2,015 hours a year, essentially a full day’s work every workday with no time off. Long hours have become a status symbol among the well paid, and people at these types of jobs are expected to be reachable 24/7 for more off-hours work.
Low-wage workers, meanwhile, deal with not getting enough hours and unpredictable schedules. They also have many fewer of the additional family-friendly benefits that some highly paid workers get, like backup child care, free food or the ability to telecommute.
“Employers assume a worker who’s always available for work, with no other responsibility,” Ms. Williams said. “If you’re not, whether you’re a nurse’s aide or an investment banker, you’re seriously disadvantaged.”
Parents struggle with inflexible jobs long after their children are newborns, and taking care of older family members is becoming a bigger issue as the baby boomers age. Grown children are the single greatest source of care for the elderly in the United States. Nearly half of Americans between the ages of 40 and 60 have a parent over 65 and are supporting a child. A third of them say they always feel rushed, according to the Pew Research Center.
For politicians, paid parental leave is one way to address economic anxiety among workers. But they may soon find Americans who are stressed balancing work and family seek relief beyond the first few weeks of their children’s lives.
Claire Cain Miller JAN. 7, 2016