Across our country, people are standing up and demanding fair working conditions. These debates are about more than just pay and hours worked. The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the fact that people’s lives do not solely revolve around their jobs.
Workers’ wages, hours and paid time off should reflect their whole lives--as individuals with complex and changing needs. Namely, people need to be able to take time away from work when they need to, especially when that means taking care of themselves or a loved one. They need paid family and medical leave.
As women legislators, we’ve both spent our legislative careers fighting to expand these policies. We’ve seen how individuals and families can flourish when they have the support of good paid leave policies, and we’ve seen how they struggle when they don’t.
The fact is, equal access to paid leave is a matter of equity and justice that can close preexisting economic divides. It is also exceedingly popular: In Michigan, for example, a recent poll found that 81% of voters support the creation of a comprehensive state-level paid family and medical leave law.
Paid family and medical leave provide reassurance in the form of pay to workers who need to spend an extended period of time caring for a family member with an illness, recovering from their own health complication, or adjusting to life with a new child. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Black, Latinx and Native American workers are most adversely impacted by a lack of paid leave, along with those who work lower wage jobs. A lack of paid leave inflicts significant economic damage, with one study showing that 30% of working women left the workforce after giving birth. During the COVID-19 pandemic, women were disproportionately impacted by job loss.
It’s clear that individuals, families and our economy need paid family and medical leave now. Unfortunately, Congress hasn’t made meaningful movement on medical leave policy in nearly three decades. The landmark Family and Medical Leave Act, signed into law in 1993, only offers unpaid leave and still fails to cover millions of workers--despite its drafter’s original intent. It’s clear we can’t wait for politicians in D.C. to act. Change must happen at the state level.
That’s why we are working with national progressive strategy organizations like the State Innovation Exchange and A Better Balance, as well as numerous in-state partners, to advance strong leave programs in state legislatures across the country this year.
Eleven states and the District of Columbia have already taken action to enact plans that create paid family and medical leave assistance. In Maine, a first-in-the-nation earned paid leave policy that covers 85% of all workers has been passed. Next month, it is anticipated that Michigan’s Earned Paid Sick Leave Act will return to its original ballot language and be formally adopted following years of legislative battles.
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