The effort, announced by President Obama at a high-profile White House Summit on Working Families in June and expected to become an issue in the 2016 presidential campaign, is part of the Labor Department’s #LeadonLeave movement to, according to its Web site, “update workplace policies that are stuck in the past” when the majority of children were raised in breadwinner-homemaker families. Today, the majority of children are raised by dual-income or single working parents, and only 22 percent in traditional breadwinner-homemaker families.
“Too many working families today can’t afford to take the time they need to care for their families or themselves because they lack any form of paid leave,” Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez said in a statement announcing the awards. “We need to do more to give people the tools to be responsible employees and good caregivers, so they don’t have to choose between the families they love and the jobs and economic security they need.”
The grants to study the feasibility and impact of state paid leave programs are as follows:
*District of Columbia: $96,281
Lawmakers in Rhode Island passed a state-wide paid leave law in 2013 that went into effect Jan. 1, 2014. The law gives workers four weeks of paid caregiver leave every year to care for a seriously ill family member, including grandparents, in-laws and domestic partners, or to bond with a newborn, newly adopted or newly fostered child. Workers receive between $72 and $752 per week, based on earnings, paid out of an employees’ payroll taxes. Employers pay nothing, nor does the state government. The federal grant is designed to measure the program’s effectiveness as well as public awareness.
Rhode Island is one of only three states that currently have passed paid family leave laws. California provides up to six weeks of leave each year, also paid out of employee payroll taxes, with a maximum benefit of $1,067, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. New Jersey provides six weeks of paid leave a year, up to $524 a week, also paid through employee payroll tax. All three states expanded existing temporary disability insurance programs to include paid leave. Only a handful of states have such disability insurance programs.
Advocates hailed the new federal grants as part of an “exciting and welcome” and long overdue movement to change workplace policies designed for a 1950s workforce to meet the needs of a 21st century workforce.“These grants signal a real commitment from the Labor Department, and state and local leaders and advocates to find concrete, innovative ways to ensure more people in this country have access to the paid family and medical leave they need,” Debra L. Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women & Families, said in a statement. “Progress at the state and local levels has long paved the way for the national policy change the country needs.”
Currently, the United States offers 12 weeks of unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act. Since the law applies only to full-time workers who’ve worked for more than one year at a company with more than 50 employees, surveys have found that the law doesn’t apply to 40 percent of the U.S. workforce. Further, surveys have found that the main reason people don’t use the leave law, is because they can’t afford to take unpaid leave.
Other advanced economies around the world have more generous leave policies. Iceland, for instance, gives new mothers three months of paid leave, followed by three months of paid leave for fathers, followed by three months of paid leave for the family to share. The Department of Labor’s #LeadonLeave Web site features a video of two expecting working women, Andrea and Jennifer. Jennifer gets 0 paid leave. Andrea gets 14 weeks.
And you guessed it. Jennifer lives in the United States. Andrea in Germany.