By Keshia McEntire (Written for IMBM)
Landing a great job and raising a family are key components of the American dream, but most new parents are forced to put aside a steady income while taking care of a newborn and recovering from delivery. The United States is the only country in the industrialized world that has yet to require businesses to offer paid leave to new parents. While four states have created parental leave programs, Indiana is not among them.
Stephanie Moss, a mother of two, said she was lucky to have an employer that offered six weeks of paid maternity leave. The idea of having to give up her income to give birth to a child is unimaginable to her.
“If I didn’t have paid leave I would be stressed, and I would worry about how I had to make money to afford the child,” Moss said. “You have doctors appointments to make, sometimes you are not feeling well. How will you make that money back? I can’t even imagine not having any paid leave.”
Needed now more than ever
According to the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Employee Benefits Survey, only 15% of civilian workers had access to paid family leave in 2017.
Erin Macey, policy analyst with The Indiana Institute for Working Families, says paid family leave has become increasingly crucial in the 21st century because most families do not have a dedicated caregiver at home and rely on two incomes.
“Families are really dependent on their income right now,” Macey said. “That’s true for two parent families, but for a very long time we have been putting at a disadvantage single parent families. They have to work, and it’s devastating to them.”
Black women, who also tend to earn less than white women, may be impacted the most. The National Partnership for Women and Families reports that 85 percent of Black mothers, 50 percent of white mothers and 49 percent of Latina mothers in Indiana provide at least 40 percent of the families joint earnings.
Benefits to Businesses
The benefits of offering paid family leave are not exclusive to workers. Employers benefit substantially from paid leavepolicies.
“In particular, with the newer generations, that work life balance can help with recruitment,” said Macey. “It also helps with employee retention. We are talking about an employee who is probably not going to show up to work anyway. They might be hospitalized, they are giving birth. The time and money it takes to train replacements ends up being more costly than granting paid leave. It keeps them on board, and you see boosts in employee morale.”
Chuck Carney, director of media relations with Indiana University, agrees. Indiana University recently updated their policy to offer up to six weeks of paid parental leave to all staff employees who work 30 hours or more each week. In addition to supporting families, he feels the policy will attract potential employees to the university.
“It’s something we know helps families, helps ease the tension, and it doesn’t cut into vacation time,” said Carney. “Furthermore, It makes us more competitive in the marketplace for the best employees, and is a good recruiting tool, for sure. We hear it mentioned a lot as a selling point for potential new employees … If you are weighing your options about weather or not you want to work with us or another institution, we can point to it and say we offer this.”
The nations biggest companies are getting on board. Earlier this year, Wal-Mart announced up to 10-weeks of job-protected paid maternal leave for birth mothers working full time.
“Families are a priority to us and connecting with and caring for a new family member is important,” said Erica Jones, Senior Manager of Corporate Communications at Wal-Mart. “We believe that when employees have stability in areas like pay, leave, scheduling and paid time off, it ultimately leads to economic stability and a better quality of life.”
However, part-time Wal-Mart employees cannot use these benefits, and adoptive families and dads are left out of the picture.
Macey acknowledges that long paid leaves of absence can be costly for small businesses. That’s why she advocates for a statewide policy that shares the cost among numerous employers. In California, for example, workers have small deductions withheld from each paycheck to insure that new moms and dads get six weeks of time off at least 55 percent their weekly pay.
According to The Brookings Institution, a 1 percent payroll tax has been enough to fund family leave in most states that have implemented paid leave policies.
Macey has advice for employees who wish to advocate for paid family leave in their workplace.
“Addressing this at the point of hire would be one way to advocate for this. Do not just think about your negotiation around wages or salary, but also think ahead to the fact that you will likely need medical leave or family leave in your future,” Macey said. “Also, turn to your legislators. There are states that have policies that guarantee family leave, and it is very low cost. Turn to lawmakers and ask them to study these issues.”
Moss says having paid time off fostered a successful transition back into the workplace after giving birth.
“You have the time to get use to a new schedule,” Moss said. “The hardest part is to prepare yourself to take them to daycare. You can pump if you breastfeed and get it together so you will come back more organized, even mentally.”