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Four Weeks Of Paid Leave Is Embarrassing, But It Is Still A Start

Winning the fight for paid family leave is at risk of slipping away. Congressional leaders are considering slashing it from the Build Back Better package entirely, while according to PL+US: Paid Leave for the United States, President Biden is still working to reach an agreement to include paid leave albeit reduced from 12 weeks to just four weeks.

The U.S. can’t wait any more. After the last 20 months of living through the continued pandemic crisis, you would think that our congressional leaders would prioritize the need for paid family leave. In the New York Times, Claire Cain Miller laid out the U.S. compared to the rest of the industrialized world based on data from the World Policy Analysis Center. By eliminating paid family leave from the Build Back Better reconciliation bill, the U.S. will remain one of only six countries without a national paid leave policy. Four weeks is not enough and will keep the U.S. woefully behind the majority of the world, but including it will be significantly better than the zero weeks we currently have.

Working families can’t wait any more either. According to PL+US, over 100 million people in this country don’t have a single day of paid leave, 1 in 4 American women return to work within 10 days of giving birth, and less than 1 in 4 men have access to paternity leave. Low-wage workers are the least likely to have access to family leave. Four weeks is not enough. It is far from the 18 weeks of paid parental leave recommended by the International Labor Organization and up to six months recommended by UNICEF for the best health of new babies and birthing parents. It’s not even enough time to be cleared by an OB after childbirth, which routinely happens in the U.S. at about 6 weeks.

Four weeks is not enough. After the pandemic’s disruption highlighted the importance of care, the initial 12 weeks felt embarrassing (at least for me, given my plea for 6 months), and four weeks feels like a joke. But it is also important to remember that it is a very crucial start.For decades, the U.S. has relied on the business sector and states to fill the gap, and this approach hasn’t been working. It has led to the current patchwork of state and company programs that only cover about 20% of private-sector employees and 26% of state and local government employees. For those large majority of workers without any paid leave, four weeks will have an impact for each and every one of those individuals and families.

Care impacts almost all of us and should not just be reserved for new mothers or the employees who are lucky enough to work for a company that offers paid leave. 

Alexis Ohanian, Reddit co-founder and 776 founder, agrees and believes that businesses can’t wait either. They need the government to set the standard to drive systemic change. Ohanian has been championing paid family leave since the birth of his now 4-year-old daughter with his wife, Serena Williams. He partners with Dove Men+Care to support their Pledge and Fund for fathers with no access to paternity leave. And at 776, his founding partner Katelin Holloway created an open-sourced tool for their portfolio companies to use as they create their own paid leave plans. While impressive, Ohanian recognizes that even though data and studies like this one from the Boston College Center for Work & Family provide evidence that points to how critical paid leave is for businesses, too many haven’t found a way to implement paid leave within their own organizations.

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 “The U.S. is the only industrialized country that doesn’t provide some form of universal parental leave access, and the sole responsibility shouldn’t land on business leaders to single-handedly affect change in their workplaces. There needs to be action from the government to set the standard.”

Congressional leaders are in a position to finally set a standard to support working families, to recognize the value of care, and to pass a policy that over 80% of Americans support. As PL+US Executive Director Molly Day shared, this is an opportunity to “guarantee that all working people can be there for their families during life’s most important moments.”  

To business leaders and executives, this is a call to action: support those congressional representatives and peers like Ohanian fighting for substantial paid family leave, and use your own influence to ensure that the U.S. does not continue to fall further behind and to invest in care and our workforce. 

Remember everyone impacted by care (i.e., all of us) has the opportunity to join in the fight to save paid leave and keep it in the Build Back Better bill by emailing or calling your member of congress today. We can’t let paid leave slip by for another year, decade, or even a generation.

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