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Obama Pushes Paid Leave for Americans


Yesterday, President Obama signed a memorandum directing federal agencies to give employees up to six weeks of paid leave after the birth or adoption of a child — that’s a “benefit he wants to extend to all American workers” with the Healthy Families Act, according to The New York Times. It’s also long overdue. While the Family and Medical Leave Act provides for 12 weeks of unpaid leave, that magical “paid leave” is discretionary.


(Photo Credit: The White House)

Yes, it’s awesome that you can expect to still have a job when you get out of the hospital, and/or after that time with your newborn baby; but it’s small comfort when there’s no paycheck coming in during that time. It’s just that much harder to dig your way out. 

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So, here are the facts you should know.

1. Millions of workers don’t have paid leave.

“Eighty-four percent of private industry workers received vacation, holiday, or personal leave. Seventy-two percent of workers received both paid holidays and paid vacations, and 61 percent were covered by sick leave plans,” according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Those numbers sound heartening, but the reality is that millions of Americans still have no paid leave at all.

2. It’s a public-health issue.

Over 43 million workers go to work when they are sick: sniffling, sneezing, coughing, and aching. We see it every day, when we happen into a workplace where workers don’t have paid leave. So, we’re all exposed to the germs, which we then pass on. It’s a miserable, vicious circle — one that resulted in an estimated 1,500 (avoidable) deaths in the last pandemic alone.

“If a terrorist attack caused 1,500 deaths it would be a national crisis,” writes Christopher Ingraham at The Washington Post. “But when those same deaths are caused by workplace sneezes we shrug.” 

3. There’s disparity in the types of jobs that receive paid leave.

“Eighty-eight percent of private sector managers and financial workers have access to paid leave, more than double the rate among service workers (40 percent) and construction workers (38 percent),” according to Ingraham. So, the workers who can least afford to miss out on any part of their paycheck are the ones who don’t get paid for taking even one sick day. 

4. Studies demonstrate the benefits of paid leave.

Most businesses would probably argue that it’s too expensive to offer paid-leave benefits to employees. But, just last year, the Center for Economic and Policy Research conducted a study on the Connecticut paid-leave act — they found increased productivity, fewer sick workers on the job, and better employee morale. So, more work gets done, and you’re not exposing your other employees to a cesspool of germs. 

5. The US is behind the times (and most other countries).

You’ve probably heard about how poorly the US compares as far as maternity leave goes, with some country offering years of leave and attractive tax benefits. That facts remain: “the United States is among the least generous in the world, ranking down with the handful of countries that don’t offer any paid leave at all,” according to The New York Times

So, why is the US so far behind other countries? And, why has it taken 20 years for even the most basic of changes to be implemented to the Family and Medical Leave Act? We could list lots of reasons why changes to paid-leave haven’t made it through Congress. It’s really the same old story, isn’t it? 

Enough is enough. 

Hopefully, you’re one of the millions who are silently (or not-so-silently) voicing their support for President Obama’s important effort to give families a little glimpse at security. 

Tell Us What You Think

Do you get paid for family or sick leave? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

Esther Lombardi
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