Choosing between your child and your job

Owen

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

Equal Pay for Women Requires Paid Time to Care

Ellen Bravo, executive director of Family Values @ Work Consortium

Ellen Bravo, executive director of Family Values @ Work Consortium

As we pause to commemorate Equal Pay Day – the day well into the year when the earnings of women working full time catch up with men’s earnings from the previous year – many people are asking why women earn so much less than men. The answer? Because women’s employers pay them so much less – including little or no time to do the caregiving for which women still have primary responsibility. That lack in compensation costs women hundreds of thousands of dollars over a lifetime.

Here’s the rub – in our nation that is supposed to value families and personal responsibility, being a good parent or following doctor’s orders affects your ability to stay employed, to advance, to build assets or even to pay your bills. Lose a job for staying home with a sick child and it may be harder to get the next one. Take a little time to care for your dying father and you may find yourself in bankruptcy court – and that can affect your credit rating and your ability to get hired at the next job. Take a few years to raise young children and your next starting pay – and all the lifetime of raises based on that pay – may take a hit from which you’ll never recover.

Conservatives argue that women would get equal pay with men if they didn’t take breaks. Having a baby may be a joy – but it’s not a break. Studies show that women who experience an interruption in employment do experience a decrease in wages – a reflection of the notion that they’ve taken a “break” and lowered their value by “not working.”

Many new moms who wind up out of a job would be delighted to go back to the one they had — but their employer prevents it. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act prohibits firing someone for being pregnant, but it does not require holding their job open until that person heals from childbirth. The Family and Medical Leave Act does include that job protection, but it leaves out 40 percent of the workforce. At the time when they need a steady income the most, too many moms risk losing their jobs when they have a child.

fvaw caregiverNow for the good news: there are tested policy solutions to correct these problems. The drop in income is less likely to happen when women have access to paid family leave. Researchers Houser and Vartanian found evidence that paid family leave boosts the chance that women will return to the workforce and receive pay increases once they do.

An analysis of the impact of California’s paid leave program on leave-taking and post-birth employment found that paid family leave increases a woman’s attachment to the firm that she works in, as well as increasing the number of hours that she works after returning to the job.

In short, common sense policies like a family leave insurance fund not only strengthen families and lower turnover, they would also help lessen the gender wage gap. Sen. Kirsten Gillebrand and Rep. Rosa DeLauro have introduced a federal bill, the FAMILY Act, to create such a fund. And President Obama has included money in the budget for a State Paid Leave Fund, grants to states to help them start similar programs on the state level.

Other public policies would help as well. Guaranteeing that workers can earn paid sick time would help stop income and job loss that impacts women’s earnings. So would proposed credits for caregiving in determining social security income.

These aren’t the only solutions. We need to restore the lost value of the minimum wage (where women are the majority of workers) and remove the barriers from workers choosing to belong to a union. We need parity for part-timers, who are also disproportionately female – no law currently requires that they get the same base rate, even when doing the same job for the same company. And we need an end to salary secrecy, as President Obama is ordering today for federal contractors.

But we’ll never solve the problem of women’s lower – and often really low – pay until we also ensure that women and men have access to affordable time for caregiving.