Making the Case for Paid Federal Family Leave

The following information is from the office of US Sen. Kirsten E.  Gillibrand

Nearly every American, at some point in their lives, will have to take time away from work to recover from an illness, nurse a sick loved one, or care for a new child. However, despite the inevitable need for time off from work, almost 90 percent of workers do not have access to paid family leave, and over half of the American workforce does not have access to employer-provided personal leave.

The Family and Medical Leave Act, passed in 1993, provides unpaid, job-protected leave for serious health-related events, but only about half of the workforce qualifies for it, and many more simply cannot afford to take it because it is unpaid. Twenty years have passed and it is clear that this program needs to be updated to meet the current needs of a growing and aging population.

Currently, the United States is the only industrialized nation in the world that does not provide some sort of paid leave to its workers. As a result, workers withdraw from the workforce for family and medical reasons, leaving them with less income in the short run, lower chances to achieve raises and promotions, a greater reliance on social welfare programs, a reduction in Social Security benefits, and a lower accumulation of lifetime earnings.

This is particularly devastating for women who, more often than not, continue to be the primary caregivers of infants, children and elderly parents in this country. We need to make it easier for working women to go in and out of the workforce so they can meet those family needs without fear of losing their paycheck.

As a result of a lack of paid leave, over the course of their careers, men lose $284,000 in lifetime wages and Social Security benefits, and women end up losing $324,000 when they leave the labor force early due to care-giving responsibilities. This is not only bad for our families; it’s bad for our economy.

It’s imperative that we make paid family and medical leave available to every worker in our country. To make this a reality, I introduced the Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act or the Family Act, which:

  • Establishes a self-sustaining national insurance fund paid for through employee and employer contributions of two-tenths of one percent of a worker’s wages – about $2 per week for a typical worker.
  • Provides eligible employees with up to 12 weeks of paid leave with 66 percent wage replacement for a person or family member’s medical emergency, including those arising from service members’ deployment or to care for a newborn or adopted baby.
  • Is gender and age-neutral and covers workers — young and elderly, single and married, men and women, working part-time or full-time in all companies, no matter their size.

For example, the average woman worker earning the median weekly wage would only n need to contribute $1.38 per week (a total of $72.04 per year) into the program, and even the highest wage earners would have a maximum contribution of $4.36 per week, or $227.40 per year. This means that for around the cost of one cup of coffee per week on average, we could create a program that will be so beneficial for our families. The average full-time working woman earning the median weekly wage would receive a total of $5,514.48 if she took the full 12 weeks of paid leave.

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