Zillow expands its family leave policy

KIRO TV interviewed Marilyn Watkins from the Economic Opportunity Institute about local tech companies expanding family leave benefits will catch on with lawmakers: “What I’m hopeful that will happen is that this will then encourage our state Legislature to act and move forward on adopting a paid family leave program that would cover everybody.” Yes indeed!

Watch it on KIRO: 


Paid Parental Leave Should Be Extended To All

moms and kids

Image via New Zealand Education Union/Flickr Creative Commons

Amazon has joined the growing list of tech companies to expand paid parental leave policies. Earlier this year, Microsoft, Netflix, and Adobe also announced more time off for new mothers and fathers.

Between them, Microsoft and Amazon have over 60,000 employees in the Seattle area. The City of Seattle, King County, Port of Seattle, and Gates Foundation – which collectively employ about 30,000 people here – also added paid parental leave benefits for their workers this year.

That adds up to a lot of local families who will benefit – but represents only a tiny fraction of the over 1.3 million jobs in the county and the more than 25,000 babies born in King County each year.

We have mountains of research showing how important the first few months of life are for a child’s long-term health, brain development, and social skills. Quality time with parents is critical. That’s why almost every other country in the world guarantees all new mothers, and often fathers, lengthy periods of paid leave.

Promoting the well-being of children and gender equity are among the goals of local governments taking action, but the tech companies aren’t acting out of concern for infant brain development. They are in cut-throat competition for trained talent, and trying to counter well-earned reputations for lacking diversity, being hostile to women and unfriendly to families. Netflix’s much ballyhooed offer of up to a year of paid parental leave callously excludes the folks who mail out all those DVDs. Amazon’s new policy fortunately does extend to full-time distribution workers.

It’s good that some employers are stepping up on their own, since Washington’s legislature and Congress have so far failed to act to establish paid family and medical leave for all workers. But until we act collectively to ensure that all new parents and children have this important benefit, we will continue to exacerbate the racial, gender, and class inequities that plague our society.

According to the US Census, 20% of King County households have annual incomes over $150,000 – including many of the employees of those techie companies. About half of Seattle-area households have incomes at or above the $72,000 that it takes around here for a family of four to pay for housing, food, childcare, and transportation without relying on public assistance.

But that means half struggle to cover the basics. It’s not just high-wage, high-benefit jobs that are booming here. So are jobs in food service, personal care, retail, and other services where pay is low and shifts are irregular. These workers are often parents, too. Many also have elder care responsibilities, and they juggle it all without access to pricey time-saving conveniences.

Nearly one in four households in King County scrape by on less than $25,000 a year. One third of single moms – and their children – live below the official poverty level ($20,000 for a family of three). For our youngest kids, the disparities by race are especially stark: 45% of Black children and one-fourth of Latinos under age five live in poverty, compared to 6% of young White kids.

The thousands of small businesses out there will have a hard time providing much paid parental leave on their own, and many big corporations won’t unless they are required to.

Last January, Washington’s legislature introduced a bill that would provide all workers in the state – whatever their income level – with up to 12 weeks of family leave, and up to 12 weeks for their own disability. People would receive two-thirds of their usual weekly pay when caring for a new child, sick family member, or recovering from their own serious health condition. To finance the system, workers would contribute a small payroll premium, matched by their employer, of a little over a dollar a week for the state’s typical worker. This simple insurance model is already working in California, New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Hawaii.

The bill made it through the House Labor Committee, but was not prioritized for serious consideration by the full Legislature. Will the growing attention from high-profile announcements and the Presidential race be enough to give the bill some legs in 2016? Not unless legislators get a serious push from their constituents to take action.

Original: South Seattle Emerald »

Port of Seattle passes paid parental leave for employees

port of seattle photoThe Port of Seattle Commission has approved a motion to provide four weeks of paid parental leave for non-represented employees during the 12 months following the birth, adoption, or placement of a foster child in the employee’s home – effective Jan. 1, 2016.

“This action ensures that every Port employee will have dedicated paid leave to recover from birth and/or bond with a new child,” said Port of Seattle Commission Co-President Courtney Gregoire. “We recognize those first days and weeks are important to the health of all the members of the family. Not only will paid family leave help the port attract and retain quality employees, it establishes a policy fundamental to supporting more women in the workforce.”

The proposed parental leave plan will offer four weeks of paid time off to both men and women. City Councilmember Jean Godden testified in favor of the motion and the positive impact it has had since the City of Seattle implemented a similar program this spring. King County is also expected to begin a paid parental leave program in the coming months.

Paid Family Leave Back on Drawing Board in Washington State

Paid family leave programs are linked to improved health outcomes for children and families. Credit: manuere/Morguefile

Paid family leave programs are linked to improved health outcomes for children and families. Credit: manuere/Morguefile

SEATTLE – The issue of paid family leave is coming into the forefront in Washington again.

The state is among eight recently selected for a federal grant to research the benefits of implementing a paid family and medical leave program. The $247,000 grant will allow Washington to put the paid leave program, adopted by the Legislature eight years ago, back on the drawing board.

Marilyn Watkins, policy director with the Economic Opportunity Institute, says a study will compare benefits vs. costs, and the impact on families and businesses.

“Another part of it will be to look at existing state programs and services and how a family and medical leave insurance program would interact with those and really allow them to work better,” says Watkins.

The Family Leave Insurance Act was approved in 2007 but tabled due to a lack of funding. Under federal and state law, workers are guaranteed up to 12 weeks of leave for pregnancy, newborn and medical care situations, but it is unpaid time.

Watkins says with paid family leave, the state can save on public assistance, child-care subsidies, and senior home care. And she adds research shows it boosts worker earnings, increases employee retention and improves health outcomes for children and families.

“We all understand how important it is that parents be able to stay home with their newborn children and really nurture and care for those new young lives, for mothers to recover their own health following childbirth and to really give the baby their best possible start in life,” says Watkins.

Funding the program will not be a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul, explains Watkins. She says
workers would contribute to a trust fund through a small payroll premium, and then draw from it when on family or medical leave.

“Employers are not having to foot the bill when people are out on extended leave and also the state isn’t footing the bill through other existing state revenues,” she says. “It’s a new source of revenue and makes it a completely self-funded program.”

California, Massachusetts and New Jersey are among states that have passed similar paid leave laws.

By Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service – WA

Attitudes Shift on Paid Leave: Dads Sue, Too

Dad and daughter.WASHINGTON — For decades, women who believed their employers had punished them with lower wages and missed promotions after they had become mothers have been filing gender discrimination complaints and bringing lawsuits.

Now, as men shoulder more responsibilities at home, they are increasingly taking legal action against employers that they say refuse to accommodate their roles as fathers.

“The huge thing that’s changed only in about the past five years is suddenly men feel entitled to take time off for family,” said Joan C. Williams of the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco. “They’re willing to put their careers on the line to live up to that idea. It’s revolutionary.”

Read more: New York Times »

Millennial Dads: Trying Hard, Hitting the Fatherhood Glass Ceiling

millenial dads

Original graphic via Jezebel

Other older marrieds sometimes ask me the secret to having a husband who does easily half, arguably more, of the childrearing and cleaning/cooking in our house. The secret is I married someone who is 33 years old. Good news for people like me: Millennial dudes are the most engaged, involved fathers in history. Bad news: Even they are having trouble knocking this equality thing out of the park.

Writing at the New York Times, Claire Cain Miller reports on the bummer reality that millennial fathers are giving it the old college try on the raising the kids and doing the dishes front, but finding themselves screwed when it comes to workplace policies that haven’t kept pace. Miller writes:

“The majority of young men and women say they would ideally like to equally share earning and caregiving with their spouse,” said Sarah Thébaud, a sociologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara. “But it’s pretty clear that we don’t have the kinds of policies and flexible work options that really facilitate egalitarian relationships.”

Work-family policies strongly affected women’s choices, but not men’s. Ms. Thébaud said that occurred because women disproportionately benefit from the policies since they are expected to be caregivers, while men are stigmatized for using them.

The word “benefit” here is dubious. It’s more complicated than this, because when women take advantage of these so-called favorable conditions designed precisely for them, yes, they are, in effect benefiting. But it’s not as if exercising the option doesn’t come with a penalty, it just kicks in before they ever get pregnant—in the form of being regarded as less reliable from the start, and therefore missing leadership roles or promotions due to the expectation they will start a family—and then they’re hit again afterward, when they find it difficult to re-enter the workforce after going part time. Meanwhile, men are viewed as more reliable after a family, not less.

Thébaud’s work comes from a study she co-authored on workplace policies and their effect on millennial relationships, the first such large study of its kind. But Miller cites other research that found the same thing again and again: People increasingly want and expect equal relationships, only to find that the world doesn’t seem to want to yield, in part because the nature of work has become never-ending, with everyone on the digital leash 24/7, and in part because of simply what happens when children come into the picture. One Families and Work Institute study Miller cites found that 35 percent of childlessmillennial men thought men and women should take on traditional roles, i.e., him the breadwinner, her the caregiver, while 53 percent of those with kids thought traditional was the best arrangement.
Here’s Miller:

“They say, ‘I didn’t realize how much of a ding it would be on my career,’” said Laura Sherbin, the center’s director of research. “It’s what women have been saying for years and years.”

The research shows that when something has to give in the work-life juggle, men and women respond differently. Women are more likely to use benefits like paid leave or flexible schedules, and in the absence of those policies, they cut back on work. Men work more.

But again, let’s note that both men and women who want equal partnerships are being penalized in some way or another for having families—women are penalized for being women, i.e., caregivers, while men are being penalized for not acting like men, i.e., breadwinners. Men will at least be rewarded through work after breeding—research shows men on average score a 6% raise per child, whereas a woman’s salary will decrease by 4 percent per child.

Other research Miller details that surveyed unmarried millennials about future work/family balance found that respondents overwhelmingly chose egalitarian arrangements (95 percent of college-educated women vs. 75 percent of college-educated men; 82 percent of women without college vs. 68 percent of men) when work policies supported them. But when they didn’t support them, things looked a little different.

Full story: Jezebel »

The More I Learn About Breast Milk, the More Amazed I Am

Photo: Maja via Flickr Creative Commons

Photo: Maja via Flickr Creative Commons

To produce breast milk, mothers melt their own body fat. Are you with me? We literally dissolve parts of ourselves, starting with gluteal-femoral fat, aka our butts, and turn it into liquid to feed our babies.

Before and after giving birth to my daughter 10 months ago, I was inundated with urgent directives from well-meaning, very insistent health practitioners, parenting book authors, mommy bloggers, journalists, and opinionated strangers that “breast is best.” The message was clear: In order to be a good mom, I had to breast-feed.

But breast-feeding is more than being a good mom. And breast milk is much more than food: It’s potent medicine and, simultaneously, a powerful medium of communication between mothers and their babies. It’s astonishing. And it should be—the recipe for mother’s milk is one that female bodies have been developing for 300 million years.

Breast-feeding leads to better overall health outcomes for children, which is why the World Health Organization and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend that babies be exclusively breast-fed for a minimum of six months.

Those outcomes, though, are relative: A premature infant in the neonatal intensive-care unit or a baby growing up in a rural African village with a high rate of infectious disease and no access to clean water will benefit significantly more from breast milk over artificial milk, called formula, than a healthy, full-term baby born in a modern Seattle hospital.

We’re also told that breast-feeding leads to babies with higher IQs and lower rates of childhood obesity than their formula-fed counterparts. I understand why people find this appealing, but I don’t plan to raise my daughter to understand intelligence in terms of a single test score, or to measure health and beauty by body mass index.

More compelling to me are the straightforward facts about breast milk: It contains all the vitamins and nutrients a baby needs in the first six months of life (breast-fed babies don’t even need to drink water, milk provides all the necessary hydration), and it has many germ- and disease-fighting substances that help protect a baby from illness. Oh, also: The nutritional and immunological components of breast milk change every day, according to the specific, individual needs of a baby. Yes, that’s right, and I will explain how it works in a minute. Not nearly enough information is provided by doctors, lactation counselors, or the internet about this mind-blowing characteristic of milk.

I made the choice to breast-feed around the same time I was offered a full-time job writing about food. Every morning at 7 a.m., I nurse my daughter. At the office, I pump milk two times a day. When I come home, we nurse, and then at 7 p.m., we nurse before she goes to bed. A few nights a week, I go out to dinner for work.

For six months straight, I woke up every night at 3 a.m. and pumped milk for half an hour in order keep my supply ahead of her demand. (Three a.m. is possibly the darkest, loneliest, and most quiet hour of the night, but I had the reassuring, rhythmic sound of my pale-yellow breast pump to keep me company.) For the last 10 months, there hasn’t been one minute of my life when I wasn’t thinking about, writing about, eating, and/or producing food.

Food points to who we are as animals—human beings with a fundamental need for nourishment, survival—but also to who we are as people: individuals with families, histories, stories, idiosyncrasies. Every day, calories, vitamins, and even clues about the culture I live in flow, drip, leak, and squirt out of my boobs, staining my clothes and making my skin sticky. And every day, I wonder what exactly goes into this miraculous substance.

“People tend to underestimate what milk is,” says Katie Hinde, a biologist and associate professor at the Center for Evolution and Medicine at the School of Human Evolution & Social Change at Arizona State University. She also runs the very funny, highly informative, and deeply nerdy blog Mammals Suck… Milk!

“That’s in part because you go to the store and there’s an entire aisle dedicated to buying milk that is literally a homogenized, standardized food. It leads us to take mother’s milk for granted.”

But right now, researchers like Hinde—a mix of evolutionary biologists, dairy scientists, microbiologists, anthropologists, and food chemists—are examining milk, and the more closely they look, the more complexities they find.

Full story: The Stranger »