08 May More Information Monday: Working Families
In honor of Mother’s Day this upcoming weekend, this week we will feature an issue that impacts the mothers (and fathers) of this country. This week we look at Working Families – specifically paid leave and child care.
So let’s say a woman in the workplace has a baby. What happens in her professional life? She can stay home with the baby, right?
Yes and no. Yes – of course the mother can stay at home with her child – no one is stopping her. However, the problem that many families are facing is that only 14% of American workers have access to paid leave – meaning they will receive some level of income while they stay home with their new child. Parents can stay home with their new babies, but if they are not getting paid while they stay home, they take a significant financial hit. This is especially hard on some families because their household expenses dramatically increase with the addition of a child (newborns use a LOT of diapers). It leads to a really crappy situation – pun intended.
(Source 1 and 3)
So there is no law regarding family leave? What is FMLA? I feel like that’s something I would text.
FMLA stands for the Family Medical Leave Act which federally mandates 12 weeks of job protection per year for an employee to leave for childbirth/newborn-care, adoption of a new baby, or care for a sick relative. So you can leave, and know your job will still be there when you get back. This mandate only applies to companies with more than 50 employees. But if a new parent works for a smaller company, there is no national law to ensure that his/her job will be there when he/she comes back. About 40% of workers are not eligible for FMLA due to its restrictions.
(Source 1 and 2)
Having family friendly policies – like paid parental leave – has to be a good thing, right? Am I missing something?
For families, yes – the obvious benefit is that they can stay home with their newborns. This allows them to be home without the stress of loss of income. They can care for their child and get the rest they need (side note: new parents lose an average of 6 months of sleep in the first 2 years of their child’s life). They are not asked to perform at work while trying to adjust to having an infant.
In the work world, studies have found that companies that offer parents access to paid parental leave have higher employee retention.
On a national level, studies show that family friendly policies lead to lower infant mortality, better child health, labor force growth, and lower poverty rates.
(Source 1 and 3)
So why are these policies not more popular?
Some people believe that government requiring businesses to offer paid leave would be overstepping its boundaries. They feel that the government should not have a say in private company policy. Some economists cite high labor costs as a factor for economic woes on the national level. For example, in Europe the average mother is entitled to 17 weeks of paid leave. Economists see the European model for paid leave as one of the factors of its economic woes.
So NO ONE gets paid leave? That looks pretty bleak.
Like all rules, there are exceptions! There are a few ways to get paid leave. First, there are some companies that have come out and offered it to their employees (Google, Netflix, Chobani – we’ll share a more extensive list on Thursday). There are also some states that allow for a parent to take paid leave such as California, Washington, and New Jersey (not just good for pork roll!). They work it in as part of a payroll tax. Some people also have access to short term disability. However, this only gives you about 40-60% of your salary. Or, you could just move to Europe (see previous question for the European way of doing things). People do have access to this benefit, but it’s not an option to the majority of Americans.
(Source 2 and 3)
Does all of this just apply to new mothers? Or can fathers, partners, adoptive parents, etc. get to stay home as well?
Absolutely. FMLA is for any parent – not just mothers. The family model has changed a lot over the past 50 years and both parents are taking a more active role in the household. However, companies are slow to adapt to the changes and men often encounter career penalties for taking paternity leave. More companies that offer paid leave are offering it to both parents, either biological or adoptive.
Aren’t there other options for parents? What about daycare?
Daycare is a viable solution for thousands of families. However, there are a few issues that come with this option. The biggest issue is the cost. Infant day care often costs more than 10% of the average married couples’ COMBINED incomes. This doesn’t account for the cost effect on single parents. Child care is largely unregulated and the workers are often underpaid. There are many good child care centers out there, but they are not always an option due to their location or cost to parents who need them.
Isn’t there more to this issue – things like wage gap and unequal representation of women in areas of the political and corporate world?
Yes. Of course there is more to this than what we cover today/will cover this week. But in an effort to keep things simple, we’re going to break larger issues into smaller ones so they’re easier to digest. We’ll cover that another week – not to worry.
Join us tomorrow to see what each side of the debate has to say on Two-Sided Tuesday!
1: Johnson, Michelle. “Women and Work.” CQ Researcher 26 July 2013: 645-68. Web. 7 May 2017.
2: “Pregnancy and Childbirth: Should health insurance plans cover contraception? Should new parents receive paid leave from employers?” Issues & Controversies, Infobase Learning, 3 Dec. 2012, http://0-icof.infobaselearning.com.library.brookdalecc.edu/recordurl.aspx?ID=6310. Accessed 4 May 2017.
3:Newman, Romy. “Paid-Leave Primer.” Chicago Tribune, 23 Jan, 2017, pp. 3, SIRS Issues Researcher, https://sks.sirs.com.