Paid Leave Is Necessary to Truly Support Families

For women—especially low-income women—being forced on and off the career ladder any time they welcome new children, get sick or have to care for an ill parent can be devastating.

paid-leave-families-build-back-better
Sen. Gillibrand with her son. (Instagram)

The goal of the Build Back Better framework is to solve the challenges that families are facing and to build a stronger future that gives them more opportunity to thrive and leaves them less vulnerable to emergencies. To truly do that, we need to create a universal paid family and medical leave program.  

During the pandemic, when kids needed to stay home, either because they were sick or participating in distance learning, it was largely women who stayed home with them. For women who couldn’t work from home or take paid time off, the consequences were dire. More than 5 million women lost their jobs and half of all mothers who quit a job during the pandemic said one reason they quit was because their child’s school or daycare was closed and they needed to shoulder the caretaking responsibilities

When women lose their jobs, the impact is both immediate and long-lasting. Families not only have to try to make ends meet in the short term, but women’s careers and earning potential also suffer setbacks they often never overcome. For low-income women, being forced on and off the career ladder any time they welcome new children, get sick or have to care for an ill parent can be devastating. They never have a chance to ascend in seniority or earn higher pay. Experts estimate that the lack of paid leave causes workers and their families to lose $22.5 billion in wages every year. That’s a major drag on the U.S. economy.

Their families, and our economy, will not recover if they cannot get back to work. Paid leave will help them get there. In fact, workers are even more likely to go right back to work after an absence if they have paid leave. 

paid-leave-families-build-back-better
Eight in 10 workers in the U.S. do not have paid leave. (Pxfuel / Creative Commons)

While COVID may have brought the need for paid leave to the forefront, that need will not end when the pandemic does. Eight in 10 workers in this country do not have paid leave—yet at some point, nearly every worker will need time off to care for themselves or a loved one. Having a policy that allows them to do so without losing their job or their paycheck provides stability to their families, to the companies they work for, and to our economy. 


Eight in 10 workers in this country do not have paid leave—yet at some point, nearly every worker will need time off to care for themselves or a loved one.


Our allies and economic competitors recognize that. America is the only industrialized country in the world that asks birth mothers to return to work while they are still recovering from delivery or a C-section. Nearly one in four birth mothers are back at work within two weeks, while their bodies are still healing. None of our peers deprive new parents of time to nurse or bond with their new baby. And none of our peers ask workers to go to work when they are sick, knowing it will only contribute to the spread of diseases like COVID. That puts us at a disadvantage on the world stage.

I have continued to fight to see paid leave included in the Build Back Better framework, and I strongly support Speaker Pelosi’s efforts to include it in the House bill alongside the expanded child tax credit and provisions for affordable childcare and universal pre-K. Together with paid leave, those critical programs form the legs of a stool that can hold American families up by helping parents provide their children with the care they need in a way they can afford. Without one of those legs, that stool will fall. We need all of them.  

The pandemic has given us piece after piece of irrefutable evidence that the system is not working for women or working families. We need to rebuild it in a way that reflects the way families live now and the struggles they face. This moment gives us a chance to reshape the American workplace and ensure that it is a place where all workers can thrive, where all workers are able to earn a living, and where all workers can provide for their family both financially and emotionally. We cannot miss this opportunity. 

As a country, we recognize the importance of investing in infrastructure like roads, bridges and broadband. We need to recognize that investing in care infrastructure like childcare, universal pre-K and paid leave is just as important. The care economy has been left off the list for far too long.  

This is a policy whose time has come. We have seen a groundswell of support and advocacy for paid leave. That energy and the need for paid leave are not going anywhere. I will keep fighting until the ink is dry on a law that creates robust national, universal paid family and medical leave and ensures no worker is ever again forced to choose between their paycheck and their family’s health. 

If you found this article helpful, please consider supporting our independent reporting and truth-telling for as little as $5 per month.

Up next:

About

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is a U.S. senator from New York. In 2013, she authored legislation to create America’s first national paid family and medical leave program.