Having a child is the single most expensive health event faced by young families. In fact, thirteen percent of families with a new infant become poor within a month, according to the National Partnership for Women & Families.
Yet, the United States remains one of the only countries in the world that doesn’t guarantee paid maternity leave to new parents. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), adopted 20 years ago, enables some parents to take up to 12 unpaid weeks to care for a new baby.
Only 40% of the workforce is eligible for FMLA, though, and because the leave is unpaid, many eligible families simply can’t afford to use it.
“Most families cannot go for 12 weeks without getting paid, and imagine how much more compelling that is when it’s not just you and your husband, but you have a new baby as well,” Sue Frietsche, senior staff attorney for Women’s Law Project, told Pittsburgh’s NPR station WESA90.5 FM. “That is exactly the wrong time to go without a paycheck.”
To that end, Pittsburgh Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak introduced legislation yesterday calling for at least six weeks of paid leave for certain city employees. The legislation covers parents of any gender, and to parents adopting or fostering children.
From WESA’s report:
While those opposed to paid family leave argue that it’s too expensive, Tara Simmons, Vice President of the Women and Girls Foundation, said the country is already paying for it every time an employee quits a job.
“The Society for Human Resources Management has quantified that every time a business replaces a salaried employee, it could six to nine months’ salary on average” Simmons said.
Rudiak highlighted studies showing that paid parental leave helps reduce infant mortality and shorten hospital stays as well as leading to higher IQs and educational attainment.
It’s a start. Councilwoman Rudiak hopes the bill will encourage private employers to adopt similar policies, and her proposal comes at a time when the issue has momentum. President Obama called for paid family leave during the last State of the Union address.
“It’s time we stop treating child care as a side issue, or a women’s issue,” he said, “and treat it like the national economic priority that it is for all of us.”
So far, 16 other cities and three states have passed similar measures.