Guess who’s leading on leave? (Hint: Not us)

By Secretary of Labor Tom Perez

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Tom Perez, 26th Secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor

I spent last week in Melbourne, Australia representing our government at a meeting of Labor Ministers of the world’s 20 major economies.

After sitting down with my G20 counterparts and learning more about their policies relating to work and workplaces, my main takeaway is that the United States is distressingly behind the curve on paid family leave.

It’s incomprehensible to me that we’re the only industrialized nation without a national paid leave law of any kind. How can we say we’re for family values when so many women in the United States have to jeopardize their livelihood to take a few weeks off from work after giving birth? Should a man have to sacrifice his economic security to take care of his sick mother or his wife returning wounded from active duty?

Our global partners have figured this out, building a solid consensus around these issues. They’ve taken partisanship and ideology out of the debate to recognize this for what it is – a 21st century economic imperative. They’ve discovered that paid leave, child care and similar policies increase our human capital by bringing more women into the labor force. They know it’s possible to have a growing economy, thriving businesses and family-friendly workplaces. They’ve realized we have to give people the tools to be productive employees and attentive parents – the two aren’t mutually exclusive, they go hand-in-hand.

Consider these examples:

  • Canada guarantees at least 15 weeks of paid maternity leave, with some employee cost- sharing as part of the national employment insurance system. Parental leave is 37 weeks shared between both parents with similar payments. There is also child care support of $100 per month for children under six.
  • The United Kingdom allows women to take up to 52 weeks of maternity leave (including 39 weeks with pay), in addition to a range of options for paternity leave.
  • Australia offers up to 18 weeks of parental leave with financial support, and at 5.8 percent its unemployment rate is lower than ours. The conservative Australian government didn’t embrace this policy grudgingly; they made it a centerpiece of their campaign platform and want to extend it to 26 weeks with more financial support.
  • Brazilian unemployment is comparable to ours, but their women get 120 days of leave at 100 percent pay.
  • Japan offers paid maternity leave at slightly reduced salary and benefits for up to 14 weeks of total leave. Moreover, Prime Minister Abe has made “Womenomics” – increasing GDP by boosting female labor force participation — a cornerstone of his governing agenda.

So, where does that leave us? While the rest of the world leans in, we’re still falling behind.

Unfortunately, there isn’t much appetite in this Congress for forward progress on these issues. But instead of waiting for leadership from Capitol Hill, we’re incentivizing reforms at the state level where so much public policy innovation takes place. Later this week, I’ll announce the winners of $500,000 in total grants for states to explore the feasibility and evaluate the effectiveness of paid leave policies. Currently, CaliforniaRhode Island and New Jersey stand alone as states with paid family and medical leave laws.

Our pressing challenge right now is to ensure shared prosperity, to build an economy that works for everyone. That means investing in the middle class, rewarding hard work and responsibility, ensuring that everyone has a chance to succeed. Paid leave has to be at the center of those efforts.

Via Work in Progress, the Official Blog of the U.S. Department of Labor

[Editor's note: The Department of Labor grants to expand and implement paid family leave have been announced! Congrats to Washington D.C., Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Montana!]

Having a child is good for your career – if you’re a man

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Photo credit: John-Patrick Thomas

Great news! If you’re a man — especially a highly educated White or Latino man in a professional job — having a baby is great for your earnings. Congrats, dads! We’re happy for you. No, really, we are.

But what about women, you ask? The news ain’t so bright. Staff reporter Claire Cain Miller at The New York Times wanted to find out how parenthood affects earnings for men and women. Her findings are clear:

One of the worst career moves a woman can make is to have children. Mothers are less likely to be hired for jobs, to be perceived as competent at work or to be paid as much as their male colleagues with the same qualifications.

For men, meanwhile, having a child is good for their careers. They are more likely to be hired than childless men, and tend to be paid more after they have children.

These differences persist even after controlling for factors like the hours people work, the types of jobs they choose and the salaries of their spouses. So the disparity is not because mothers actually become less productive employees and fathers work harder when they become parents — but because employers expect them to.

This bias is most extreme for the parents who can least afford it, according to new data from Michelle Budig, a sociology professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, who has studied the parenthood pay gap for 15 years. High-income men get the biggest pay bump for having children, and low-income women pay the biggest price, she said in a paper published this month by Third Way, a research group that aims to advance moderate policy ideas. “Families with lower resources are bearing more of the economic costs of raising kids,” she said in an interview.

Ms. Budig found that on average, men’s earnings increased more than 6 percent when they had children (if they lived with them), while women’s decreased 4 percent for each child they had. Her study was based on data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth from 1979 to 2006, which tracked people’s labor market activities over time. Childless, unmarried women earn 96 cents for every dollar a man earns, while married mothers earn 76 cents, widening the gap.

At the other end of the earnings spectrum, low-income women lost 6 percent in wages per child, two percentage points more than the average. For men, the largest bonuses went to white and Latino men who were highly educated and in professional jobs. The smallest pay bumps went to unmarried African-American men who had less education and had manual labor jobs. “The daddy bonus increases the earnings of men already privileged in the labor market,” Ms. Budig wrote.

The motherhood penalty hurts more than mothers. Women are now the sole or primary breadwinner in 40% of American families. When women aren’t fairly compensated for their work, it means they must pick up extra jobs to support their families. Children who grow up in low-income households are less likely to receive adequate healthcare, have enough food to eat and attend college. What’s more, devaluing women’s work, both in status and in pay, sends the message to young girls and women that their work is simply not as important as their male counterparts.

Addressing women’s pay gaps means adopting a package of laws to protect women – policies such as paycheck transparency, paid family leave and paid sick days. Without these, women will continue to be subject to the whims of employers and a politics of greed. It’s time to step towards a brighter future for women. We need it, we deserve it, we demand it.

By Sam Hatzenbeler, MPHc, Graduate Policy Intern

Pelosi: Extend California’s paid family leave to the nation

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House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi speaking at a Washington Work and Family Coalition event in November 2013 on women’s economic security.

By House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi

By helping 1.6 million Californians balance family and work, our state has demonstrated the success of paid family leave – and now it is time for the rest of America to join us.

Paid leave made a tremendous difference to Mary Ignatius when her second son was born with clubfeet. The doctors had explained to her the condition could be corrected, but cautioned that treatment would have to start immediately.

Caring for a newborn and Ignatius’ 4-year-old would have been a handful all on its own, but now there were weeks and weeks of doctors, casts, procedures and leg braces ahead for her baby boy.

Thankfully, Ignatius had access to paid family leave, so she could see her son through his treatments without giving up the paychecks she needed.

Most Americans are not so fortunate. Whether looking after a newborn, or tending to a recuperating family member or nursing a declining parent, too many Americans face an impossible choice between a paycheck they can’t afford to miss and bonding with a new baby or being there in a loved one’s hour of need.

Across the country, only 12 percent of American workers have access to paid family leave through their employers to care for a new child or seriously ill family member. The United States is the only industrialized country in the world that doesn’t guarantee paid maternity leave for new mothers.

For us to grow as an economy and a society, this must change.

Here, as in so many things, California is leading the way for the nation. For 10 years, our paid family leave program has enabled Californians such as Ignatius to take up to six weeks of paid leave to bond with their newborns and newly adopted children, or care for a seriously ill spouse, parent, child or partner. Starting in July, our state will cover care for siblings, grandparents and parents-in-law, too.

The program works by building on the state disability insurance program Californians have paid into for decades, creating minimal added cost to employees. In fact, the silent success of this program has meant that many California workers have no idea they are eligible for paid family leave.

Those who do take paid leave, however, find it invaluable – affording them the breathing room to tend to the health and strength of their families, while maintaining their commitments in the workplace. Businesses and families both benefit.

Expanding paid family leave to all Americans is a central pillar of House Democrats‘ economic agenda for women and families, “When women succeed, America succeeds.”

For our economy to grow, we need to unleash the full potential of women – and strengthen the middle-class families that are the backbone of our democracy.

Paid leave is a keystone of an agenda built to empower all of America’s women, along with raising the minimum wage, insisting on equal pay for equal work and providing affordable, quality child care.

With these measures, we can enable women and men to secure the balance between work and family they need to thrive.

Congress must pass the Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act, which would offer workers 12 weeks of leave at two-thirds of their salary to ensure that working men and women in every state of the union can have access to paid family leave. It proposes increasing the payroll tax contribution by 0.2 percent for employers with a match by employees.

California has once again taken the lead for our nation. Now Congress must act.

Originally published in the San Francisco Gate

Working Families Summit: For Many Small Businesses Offering Paid Maternity Leave Is Out Of Reach

mom and babyJulie Norris became a “proud single mother” in 2009, in a U.S. economic downturn that forced her to choose between having a home and keeping her 3-year-old business alive. The co-founder of Dandelion Communitea Café in Orlando, Florida, found a way to keep her company going by spending a few of those lean months sleeping on friends’ couches with her newborn daughter.

Today, Norris is back in her own home. Her health-conscious restaurant employs 29 people and generates about a million dollars a year in gross receipts, she says. When two of her workers recently gave birth, Norris made arrangements to enable them to care for their babies at work. What she couldn’t afford was to pay them off the clock.

“I wanted to offer paid leave,” she told International Business Times by phone, but said that would be a financially crippling proposition. The 35-year-old café owner says there need to be national policies to make it feasible for businesses like hers to be as family-friendly as they would like to be. “That would help change the cultural attitude toward workers,” she said.

A daylong Working Families Summit on Monday in Washington attempted to shift this cultural attitude. Joined by first lady Michelle Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, President Barack Obama used the day to propose a raft of measures aimed at easing the demands of work and family life.

“They’re basically using the summit as a bully pulpit to try to extend these rights to all employees,” Ellen Bravo, executive director of Family Values @ Work, a nonprofit calling for more family-friendly work policies, told IBTimes.

The president used his executive power to instruct federal agencies on Monday to implement more flexible workplace schedules and called on Congress to pass the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which would require businesses to make reasonable accommodations for expecting moms and prohibit employers from forcing them to take unpaid leave.

“We’re the only advanced country on Earth that doesn’t have it [paid maternity leave],” the president said Monday morning on CNN’s “New Day” “It doesn’t make any sense. There are a lot of countries that are a lot poorer than we are that also have it.”

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The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development ranks the United States last for workplace maternity benefits (pdf) compared to other developed nations like Germany, Canada, the UK or The Netherlands. U.S. labor law is more lenient on employers than labor laws in other countries.

The federal government doesn’t require private companies to offer either paid or unpaid maternity leave, and smaller businesses can legally fire anyone who needs extended leaves of absence to deal with childbirth or family health crises.

“FMLA [the Family and Medical Leave Act] is only available to workers when companies have 50 or more employees, so about 40 percent of employers don’t need to comply,” said Bravo. “This is a big problem. It’s great to have FMLA, but if you can’t afford to take time off, or you work for a small company, then it doesn’t help.”

A study released this month by the National Partnership for Women & Families (pdf) found that states have done little to implement paid and unpaid family or medical leave in the absence of strong federal protections.

Norris says she supports efforts announced Monday by Labor Secretary Thomas Perez to study the feasibility of a federal paid-leave policy that would cover the private sector – a measure that would face immense resistance from business groups and the congressional lawmakers that act in their interests. But the small-business owner says she’s hopeful that the cultural tide is changing.

“For women – and men, too – the maternity period is so critical to that future citizen,” Norris said. “And now there are more women entering the workforce than ever before. Employers are increasingly having to respond to their expectations, especially from younger women, and I hope that that encourages Congress to act.”

Obama, free of seeking re-election, is using his second term to take executive action to promote increasing the federal minimum wage, to extend same-sex marriage rights and, in this case, call for federal agencies to adopt more flexible schedules for family-related leave. But the president’s power goes only so far, and with Congress divided on the federal government’s role in social policies that affect private employers, passing any legislation that increases the costs of doing business, or adds another entitlement program, is unlikely to happen anytime soon.

Via IBT

What family values mean to Americans

Ellen Bravo, executive director of Family Values @ Work

Ellen Bravo, executive director of Washington Work and Family Coalition’s national consortium Family Values @ Work

Family values. We hear that term a lot around election season, on the House and Senate floor and over the airwaves. But politicians should focus on what family members mean when they talk about family around the kitchen table.

What family members want is simple: to care for loved ones without jeopardizing their ability to provide for those loved ones. They want to be able to stay with a sick child without worrying about missing a day’s wages – or worse, losing a job. They want to be at the bedside of a seriously ill parent, help a partner recover from surgery, spend the crucial early months with a newborn without sending the family into bankruptcy.

That’s why so many people across the country are fighting for policies like earned sick days and family and medical leave insurance. In fact, these policies enjoy broad public support across party lines, geographies and all demographic groups. Nationally, three in four adults support an earned sick days law, including about 88 percent of women, 85 percent of those 65 and older, 59 percent of strong Republicans and 77 percent of Independents.

Unfortunately, too many Americans lack paid sick days and paid family and medical leave. Right now, the only federal statute designed to help people meet the dual demands of job and family is the Family and Medical Leave   Act, a law that was an important step but leaves out 40 percent of the workforce and guarantees only unpaid time, which millions cannot afford to take.

Today, only 12 percent of U.S. workers have access to paid family leave. Meanwhile, 40 million American workers have no access to earned sick days, including eight in 10 of the lowest-wage workers, who can least afford to lose income.

Take Arlyssa Heard from Detroit, Michigan. After more than a decade helping people transition from welfare to employment, Alyssa lost her job when the contractor went out of business. The new firm hired most staff back but without any health insurance or paid sick days. Arlyssa had no time to go to the doctor for herself and wound up in the emergency room needing a blood transfusion – with a bill of $5,000.

“There were a lot of things doctors could have caught earlier,” she says. Arlyssa also has a son with sickle cell anemia, now age 19, who is frequently in the hospital. “Paid sick days would have allowed me to be with my son when he was hospitalized without the stress of worrying, are we going to be able to make the rent.”

Providing paid leave and sick days are central to family values in our country. And it’s also central to getting our economy on track. Our country’s economy will never be at its strongest when so many families are constantly on the brink of financial crisis.

Arlyssa will be one of a thousand workers, local elected officials, business owners and advocates going to Washington to take on these issues at the first-ever White House Summit on Working Families.

The Summit couldn’t come at a better time – the momentum behind these policies is growing across the country. Last year, three cities – New York City, Portland and Jersey City – passed paid sick days laws, joining San Francisco, Seattle, Washington D.C. and the state of Connecticut. Washington, DC added coverage for tipped workers. So far this year Newark, N.J. passed a similar ordinance and New York City expanded their law. Citywide laws or ballot initiatives are currently under consideration in Chicago, Eugene, OR , Tacoma, WA, San Diego, Oakland and several places in New Jersey; and statewide initiatives are gaining steam in California, Massachusetts, and elsewhere. Also in 2013, Rhode Island joined California and New Jersey in passing paid family leave, with New York, Colorado and other states considering similar legislation.

We often hear that states should act as incubators for policies before they are brought to scale nationally, and the good news is that these policies have now been tried and tested. The evidence is clear. Earned sick days and paid family and medical leave help reduce employee turnover, boost worker productivity and keep money in the pockets of families who will spend it at the local grocery store and clothing shop. Even one of the most outspoken opponents in San Francisco, Golden Gate Restaurant Association’s Executive Director Kevin Westyle, told a business reporter that paid sick days “is the best public policy for the least cost. Do you want your server coughing over your food?”

It’s past time to get real about the family values working families in this country really care about. We need national policies that let Americans be good employees, good parents to their kids and good children to their parents.

Choosing between your child and your job

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Melissa Broome, a leader for the Maryland Campaign for Paid Sick Days, writes about her son’s recent surgery and the plight of children whose parents can’t be with them in the hospital. ‪

When my four-year-old son was recently discharged after undergoing facial reconstructive surgery at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center, many friends and family members asked how I was holding up, how I was handling the stress and lack of sleep and all that comes with spending a week in a hospital. Those who have been through the experience know that the last thing you’re thinking about is yourself.

Being at a children’s hospital — especially one as world renowned as Hopkins — was one of the most humbling experiences that I will ever have. We spent our days surrounded by children who had been there for months, who had been diagnosed with chronic illnesses and who aren’t necessarily going to get better. We were awoken at night by the screams of children crying out in pain, while our child, for the most part, slept soundly. We felt guilty admitting that we were heading home when so many seemed to have no end in sight.

Thanks to incredible support from our bosses and an ample supply of paid sick days, my husband and I were able to be there for every minute of Owen’s stay. My only job while I was at Hopkins was to be his mom. Every time he was poked or prodded, I was next to him to hold his hand and whisper in his ear. I like to think that nothing could have pried me away, but I also know that I had the luxury of not having to worry about how my family would make ends meet while we were missing work. This should be the norm, but in our country, where 40 percent of workers don’t have access to a single paid sick day, it’s not.

I was taken aback during our first day in the pediatric ICU to see how many children — and oftentimes babies — were there by themselves in those cold, sterile rooms. When parents started showing up in the evening, it suddenly occurred to me that people who are trying to hold onto their jobs can’t necessarily spend all day, every day next to their child’s hospital bed. We were lucky in that we only had to figure things out for a week. I can’t imagine how parents cope when they have a child facing a long-term illness but no paid family medical leave.

Even Owen picked up on what was happening around us. When we took him for a walk one day, pulling him along in his big red wagon, we passed a room where a young boy was sitting alone inside. Owen immediately looked up at me and said with concern, “Where are that boy’s mommy and daddy? Why is he in there all by himself? He shouldn’t be by himself.”

I spoke to a mom in the family kitchen one evening whose 18-month-old daughter was about to be discharged with a feeding tube that would have stay in for at least two months. Her day care won’t take children with feeding tubes. I was at a loss for words when she said, “I don’t know how I’m going to be able to keep my job. I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

Given that I spend my professional life advocating for family friendly workplace policies, I didn’t expect to be so overcome with emotion when I saw how these policies — or lack thereof — play out in a place like a children’s hospital. Before this experience, I certainly thought I believed in the importance of paid sick days and paid family medical leave, but nothing could have prepared me for what it takes to be a hospital parent.

Once you walk through the doors of that children’s ward, it doesn’t matter your background, your income, your education level, etc. We are all just moms and dads who would give anything to be able to take the place of our kids, who are desperate to see them get through whatever battle they’re facing with the least amount of pain possible.

It is well established that children get better faster when their parents are able to care for them. I’m grateful that I was able to be a mom at a time when my son needed me most, but I also know that I’m one of the lucky ones. In a state where over 700,000 workers lack paid sick days, we all need to work harder to convince our elected officials that no parent should have to choose between the pediatric ICU and their job.

Originally published in the Baltimore Sun.

No one should be forced to choose between their job and their family. Help us make sure they don’t have to. In 2015, Washington state lawmakers can pass paid sick days and family leave. Join our work and take action today!

Growing Attention on Paid Leave as a Dimension of Inequality

MomsRising

Via MomsRising

President Obama, in his most recent State of the Union address,  predicted that fighting inequality would be the “defining project of our generation.” The President’s forecast reflects a growing concern among most Americans about rising economic inequality. Conversations about inequality often focus on the wage gap between those at the top and those at the bottom. However, increasingly, advocates, policymakers, and members of the public have come to recognize that other aspects of compensation, such as paid family and medical leave and earned sick time, are an important part of the equation. The relationships between inequality and these policies, along with others that enable workers to do their jobs and care for their families, are the focus of several new reports.

The Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recently released, Work-Family Supports for Low-Income Families: Key Research Findings and Policy Trends, which provides an overview of research on the effects of paid family leave, paid sick leave, and workplace flexibility on the well-being of low-income working parents and their families. The paper notes the positive impact such policies have on child development, parents’ financial stability, employers’ productivity, and the public health. Pamela Winston, the author of the report, explains, “[A]ccess [to these policies] is highly skewed by wage levels and other job characteristics in ways that mean the lowest income families tend to have the least access to all types of work-family benefits.” Given the host of benefits associated with access to leave and flexibility, the paper underlines how unequal access further exacerbates existing inequalities.

A recent examination of data from the National Health Interview Study (NHIS) by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) also highlights the ongoing stratification of access to paid sick days. IWPR’s brief shows that fewer than three in ten workers making $19,999 a year or less have access to any paid sick days. In contrast, among those making $65,000 or more annually, eight in ten workers have access to paid sick days. Access to paid sick days also varies by race. Only 47 percent of Latino workers have access to paid sick days, compared with 64 percent of white workers and 62 percent of black workers.

CLASP’s recently published brief, Access to Paid Leave: An Overlooked Aspect of Economic & Social Inequality, highlights other ways that lack of earned sick days and paid family and medical leave can entrench inequality, including the potential for job and wage loss among workers who lack protections but must take time away from work to care for themselves or their families. The brief also points to a recent survey showing that nearly half of low-wage workers (those in the lowest 25 percent of the wage scale) lack any form of paid leave: no vacation, no personal days, no sick days, and no family leave.

Media outlets have also been paying attention to this aspect of economic inequality. In a recent New York Times piece, Judith Warner argued that public policies to support working families are an obvious and simple part of the solution to growing inequality. Warner got at the crux of why unequal access to paid leave needs to be addressed as an urgent economic issue: “What this all means is that the people who are already in the most precarious economic circumstances are the most at risk for devastating loss of income – and assets – when they need to care for their children.” This is also true for workers who become ill themselves or need to care for other sick family members, such as parents or siblings.

With Thomas Pikkety’s book on inequality flying off the shelves, it is clear that Americans are eager to find solutions to the many problems that contribute to the current injustices in our economy. Paid leave and other policies to support workers with caregiving responsibilities are a critical but often overlooked part of the solution.

Via CLASP