How many times have you said to yourself as a working parent, “If everything goes according to plan, we’re going to be just fine.” And then life smacked you right in the face with a child coughing like a seal or a phone call at work from the school nurse. Not to mention when you were pregnant, there was exactly zero paid time off so you cobbled together, if you were lucky, two weeks of paid vacation and and maybe another week or two of savings through intense budgeting.
But maternity leave is not a vacation and operating on a wing and a prayer are not child care plans. Unfortunately, the United States is the only industrialized nation that does not offer paid family leave and working parents with small children have been left scrambling with little to no support. According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, 34 advanced nations and seven European Union countries offer, on average, 17 weeks of paid maternity leave. Out of 170 nations studied by the International Labor Organization, a United Nations Agency, the United States and New Guinea are the only two nations that do not mandate any kind of payout for maternity leave.
While it’s true that in 1993 President Bill Clinton signed into law the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), it’s not enough. FMLA guarantees 12-weeks of unpaid, job-protected paid time off for pregnancy, childbirth, prenatal care; adopting a child; experiencing a severe illness or caring for a sick, immediate relative. In addition to time off, FMLA extends elected health insurance coverage during an employee’s leave, and upon return, the continuation of a worker’s current position (or a similar one).
However a shocking number of employees in the United States are not eligible for unpaid family leave under FMLA because the companies they work for are too small. In order for an employee to be eligible for FMLA, a company must have at least 50 employees who live within 75 miles of the business, and you must have worked at the company for a year — and within that year worked at least 1,250 hours (not including vacation and sick days).
As Cosmopolitan notes, the rigid rules of FMLA have led a handful of states to redefine “family” like New Jersey, extend the eligible amount of weeks off to 16 within a 24-month period like the District of Columbia and require businesses with at least 15 employees to guarantee unpaid, job-protected leave like Maine. Additionally, three states — New Jersey, California, and Rhode Island — offer paid family and medical leave. It’s believed that more than 20 states are drafting legislation to introduce or expand time off for workers.
Family and medical leave should not depend on where you work or live, which is why it’s important to head to the polls this November knowing where our presidential candidates stand on guaranteeing women paid time off to care for their families.
Two months before the presidential election, Donald Trump, the Republican nominee, released his family leave policy which includes a plan for six weeks of paid maternity leave and a rewriting of the tax code to allow for income tax deductions for childcare expenses and caring for elderly parents. Additionally, Mr. Trump’s family leave proposal mentions the ability for families to start a Dependent Care Savings account which allows for accumulated savings year-over-year.
Mr. Trump, however, has expressed views in the past that place the burden of childcare and raising a family solely on women. It’s important to note his recently released family leave policy excludes fathers by making no mention of paternity leave.
Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential candidate, has substantial positions on paid family and medical leave which she release more than a year ago. Mrs. Clinton believes that supporting families should not be considered a luxury and policies must match the reality of what it’s like to live and work today.
Clinton supports paid family and medical leave up to 12 weeks to care for a new child or a seriously ill family member — while also granting the same amount of paid time off for a serious medical illness of one’s own. Additionally, she wants employees to receive at least two-thirds of their wages (up to a ceiling) while on leave. This benefit, Mrs. Clinton writes on her website, will be paid for by making wealthy Americans “pay their fair share” and will not increase taxes for working families. No additional costs will be levied, Mrs. Clinton promises, on businesses, especially small businesses.
While Mrs. Clinton is short on details concerning how to lower child care costs, she does recognize costs have soared by noting, “We need to make investments in child care a national priority.” Mrs. Clinton points out that many families “need two incomes to make ends meet” and 40% of women are now the breadwinners in their families.
Moreover, Mrs. Clinton has a long and well-documented history advocating for children and low-cost or no-cost health insurance, block grants for childcare costs, money for after-school programs, and served as chair of the Children’s Defense Fund. She clearly understands the importance of affordable and quality child care and the ramifications of not providing families with paid family and medical leave like almost every other developed nation on the planet. She is also committed to closing the wage gap to ensure that women — and even more specifically women of color — do not make less than their male colleagues by supporting the Paycheck Fairness Act.
The differences between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton couldn’t be more clear on the issue of paid family and medical leave. Mr. Trump offers only six weeks of maternity leave with scant mention of medical leave for individuals while Mrs. Clinton recognizes the concerns of families trying to raise their children despite rising child care costs and shrinking wages, and lays out substantial plans to address both.