Written by: Sara Minder, Minnesota NOW Intern
Nobody should have to choose between a paycheck and taking care of your family. Yet, this is a decision that so many Americans face every day, especially during the pandemic, because they do not have access to paid family and medical leave (PFML). Only about 13% of workers can access paid leave for the birth of a child or for medical reasons. As one of the richest countries in the world, American workers deserve better, which is why it is time for access to paid family and medical leave for all workers.
PFML was originally a significant part of the Build Back Better Plan, and would have provided up to 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave for all workers and up to 7 days of paid sick, family, and safe leave so Minnesotans can take care of themselves and their families. On October 27th, 2021, it was reported that PFML was dropped from the plan because of opposition from one Democrat, Senator Joe Manchin. We cannot allow one man’s greed to affect a policy that would positively impact millions of families. Other Democrats, like Senator Kristen Gillibrant are working to get PFML re-introduced to the bill. You can find and contact your US Senators and Representative using this website. Contact your representatives now to urge them to reintroduce PFML into the Build Back Better Plan.
The vast majority of working Americans do not have access to paid family and medical leave through their jobs. The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 guarantees up to 12 weeks of job-protected and unpaid leave, but this often leaves families choosing between a paycheck and taking care of themselves or their families. In Minnesota, 59% of workers are unable to access unpaid leave guaranteed through the Family and Medical Leave Act because of the economic insecurity it would bring them and their families.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exasperated our need for a federal Paid Family and Medical Leave policy. Over 750,000 Minnesotans have contracted COVID since the beginning of the pandemic. 10 to 15 percent will experience long-term symptoms. Around 646,000 Minnesotans are front line workers, putting them at greater risk of being exposed to the virus. Without Paid Family and Medical Leave, most workers will miss out on their paycheck when if they fall ill.
Paid Family and Medical Leave is a commonsense policy that most of the world has already implemented. The average amount of time of guaranteed paid maternity leave worldwide is 20 weeks. The United States has none. The United States is one of 11 countries, and the only high-income country, in the world to not provide maternity leave after giving birth. 1 in 4 women goes back to work within 10 days of giving birth.
Not only that, but the majority of Americans support implementing the policy. A recent CBS poll found that 73 percent of those interviewed support paid family and medical leave. Another study from 2020 showed 67 percent of Republicans, 77 percent of Independents, and 93 percent of Democrats support a permanent paid family and medical leave program for people with health needs or child or family care. Paid family and medical leave is a policy that is supported by the majority of Americans across the political spectrum. It’s time for Congress to listen to the voters and invest in hardworking American citizens.
Some may argue that we should leave paid family and medical leave to the free market. Businesses should get to decide what benefits they offer and people can decide what businesses they want to work at. This free market approach obviously has not worked since such a small portion of American workers have access to this benefit. The United States is far behind other countries in supporting working people and their families. All people are worthy of having the right to take care of themselves and their families, regardless of their position or pay grade. It is time for the United States to invest in its workers and provide them with a benefit that is supported across the country and the world through the Build Back Better Plan.