It’s Time to Put Families First
Most people with children can remember how difficult it can be to have one or both parents take leave from work during the important first months of a baby’s life. One in four mothers returns to work within ten days of giving birth. Nearly half of those return to work in less than a week.
Nearly two-thirds of workers age 45-74 provide care to a spouse, parent, or other adult relative. One in five retirees leaves the workforce earlier than planned, to care for an ill spouse or other family member. Family caregivers who leave the workforce early lose, on average, nearly $304,000 in wages and benefits over their lifetimes.
Currently, only 12 percent of North Carolina’s workers benefit from paid family leave to bond with a newborn child, care for a sick family member, or address their own health challenges. And those eligible to take unpaid leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) typically do not do so because they simply cannot afford it.
A new Duke University report shows that a paid family leave insurance program would help North Carolina save both lives and money, as well as relieve untold stress and worry. Paid family leave has significant benefits for both workers and employers. Consider this:
• 8 percent of mothers who take paid leave return to work for their employer, reducing training and replacement costs.
• Moms who take paid family leave are 93 percent more likely to be at their job 9 to 12 months later.
• Moms who have paid family leave are 39 percent less likely to need public assistance.
• Fathers who have access to paid family leave are twice as likely to actually take leave after a child’s birth or adoption.
• Dads who take 12 weeks of paid leave are more likely to change diapers, feed, and clothe babies at 8-12 months than dads who don’t take that important time to bond with their children.
• 87 percent of paid family leave programs showed no net increase in costs to employers.
• Nearly 90 percent of businesses offering paid leave showed an increase in productivity and employee morale.
Other benefits of paid family leave include helping to close the gender wage gap, reducing risk factors for child abuse and neglect, and eliminating a major barrier to breastfeeding. Perhaps most strikingly, public health experts estimate that North Carolina would have 26 fewer infant fatalities each year if we provided paid family leave.
It’s hard to understand why we don’t already have paid family leave insurance given its clear benefits to working people and its high level of public support. A 2017 Pew Research Study showed these astounding numbers:
• 85 percent of Americans said workers should receive paid leave to deal with their own serious health conditions.
• 82 percent of Americans said that mothers should receive paid leave following birth or adoption of a child.
• 69 percent said that fathers should receive paid leave as well.
• 67 percent said that workers should receive paid leave to care for a family member with a serious health condition.
Across the globe, there are only seven countries that don’t offer paid family leave in some form: the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Suriname, Tonga, and the United States of America. That’s not a list any of us should want to be on.
I did not know any of these facts until a few months ago. But thanks to some fantastic advocates, I have been convinced that implementing paid family leave is one of the most significant things we could do for North Carolina’s families.
Consequently, this week I am introducing the NC Families First Act. This legislation would set up a shared insurance pool to provide paid family leave for working North Carolinians. Employers and employees would each pay about $2 per week into the insurance pool. Then when an employee needed leave, they could draw replacement wages from the insurance. The employer could use that worker’s wages to hire a temporary replacement or increase the hours of other employees to do the needed work.
Employees would be eligible for wage replacement of up to 90 percent of their weekly wages, with the total benefit being capped at the average weekly wage for all of North Carolina. It would cover up to 12 weeks of paid leave to care for a child or family member. Eligibility would extend to 18 weeks for a personal serious health condition. Those caring for someone injured in military service would be eligible for 26 weeks of leave.
The Duke study estimates that four to five percent of North Carolinians would use this paid leave insurance in any given year. Although most of us would not need paid family leave insurance in any given year, during the course of our lives almost all of us would. Let’s take care of North Carolinians by truly putting our families first and providing paid family leave insurance.
Graig Meyer is the State Representative for House District 50. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was first published in the News of Orange and the Caswell Messenger.