Column: Step it up, U.S.: Make paid family leave mandatory

It is time for the United States to make paid family leave widespread. Photo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

It is looking more likely that paid family leave will become mandatory in the U.S., with more legislatures considering proposals regarding the issue.

Paid family leave is something that has been considered and argued for a long time. Essentially, employers would have to offer workers paid leave to take care of newborn children and elderly parents, rather than having to take time off that is completely uncompensated.

Many people are especially focused on paid parental leave laws, partially because it is very common across the world.

Currently, the U.S. is one of the few member nations of the United Nations that does not have a paid parental leave law. Some countries such as Russia and Japan even provide more than 52 weeks — a sharp contrast with the zero weeks that the U.S. provides. In Sweden, the government provides about 16 months of paid leave to parents so that they can divide the time between themselves as needed.

According to the World Bank, the U.S. is the only high income country that does not provide paid maternity leave. The U.S. and Suriname are the only countries in the Western Hemisphere that do not provide paid leave for either parent.

It is time the U.S. joins other developed nations and passes legislation that mandates parental leave laws. As of August 2018, over 43 million Americans were caring for elderly parents, sick family members and newborn children without any compensation.

If two people are married and they suddenly have to take care of a family member, one or both spouses may have to take leave from work. This affects the household finances because suddenly the income drastically decreases. Without any kind of legislation mandating paid family leave, the family would have to cut down on their expenses immensely and quite suddenly.

Legislation that enforces paid family leave would greatly help with this problem. The U.S. currently offers 12 unpaid weeks of leave for new mothers. If this leave become paid and applied to families in general — so that it would encompass a multitude of scenarios and people, not just maternity leave and new mothers — it would be greatly beneficial to all families, especially those who earn lower incomes. Some families do use the services outlined in the Family and Medical Leave Act, which encompasses medical emergencies. However, it is still not enough.

Clearly, the U.S. does not do enough to provide for its working families. People have emergencies, responsibilities outside of work and families. The current legislation does not account for any of this.

In the U.S. Senate, many Democrats are working on a proposal that allows for up to 12 weeks of paid leave for illness, caregiving or taking care of a new child. Among the senators working on the bill are Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.).

Six individual states as well as the District of Columbia passed paid family leave laws. These states include California, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Washington and Massachusetts.

Hopefully, the U.S. will soon pass laws mandating paid family leave, just as these states have.

In the future, we should be able to care for family members — whether they are elderly, ill or newborn children — without worrying about the possible financial consequences. Paid family leave should be something that all employees are eligible for so that no one has to worry about how to pay for their electric bill or their mortgage while taking care of someone they love.


Anika Veeraraghav is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached by email at anika.veeraraghav@uconn.edu.