There's Overwhelming Bipartisan Support For Federal Paid Leave —So...Make It Happen

by Sa'iyda Shabazz
Originally Published: 

The pandemic has opened our eyes to a lot of things, one of the biggest being the need for paid time off. When everything began to shut down, many families were left scrambling for things like childcare and caring for vulnerable older family members. And let’s not forget those who became sick with COVID and needed care themselves. Many families were left in difficult positions that federal paid leave would have alleviated.

Shockingly, the United States is the only wealthy nation in the entire world without some sort of federal standard paid leave. Right now, only 21 percent of American workers have access to paid family leave, with less than half having access to paid medical leave. A new poll shows that paid leave isn’t a partisan issue either. Democrats and Republicans both understand the need for it, and they’re even willing to pay to make it stick around.

Advocacy group Paid Leave for All Action, which promotes paid leave policies, surveyed 1,070 likely voters from seven battleground states: Arizona, Nevada, Florida, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Wisconsin, and Georgia. The survey shows that paid leave has practically universal support. So much so that voters are demanding a paid family and medical leave be made as a part of the infrastructure package. If we remember from the 2020 election, each of these states have the ability to swing elections in one direction or another. And the survey shows that Senators who fight for federal leave policies do better at election time.

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Getty Images/Maskot

“The pandemic completely changed the game,” director of Paid Leave for All Action, Dawn Huckelbridge, told Vox. “What had been a hole in our infrastructure, what had been a crisis in the making for years and generations, suddenly now it is out on this really magnified scale. People realize how critical this is to our resilience, to our economic growth, to weathering crises, whether global pandemics or cancer diagnoses.”

There aren’t many things that people can agree on, regardless of what political party they belong to. But having paid leave is, and should absolutely be, one of them. Last year, at the height of the pandemic, the battleground voters in the 2020 Senate race showed immense support for paid leave. Now that we’re going into the 2022 Senate elections, the numbers are still strong.

According to Paid Leave for All Action’s survey, 84 percent of the battleground voters support paid leave. The highest amount of support comes from Democrats and Independents (96 and 81 percent respectively) with 74 percent of Republicans and 74 percent of Trump supporters. If Trump supporters thinking this is a necessary policy doesn’t tell you everything you need to know about its importance, I don’t know what will. Additionally, 91 percent of undecided voters support paid leave, with 49 percent showing strong support.

Having stronger federal paid leave policies could be a game-changer for a lot of American families, no matter their political affiliation. Large numbers of American women had to leave the workforce to care for their children or elderly family members when everything shut down. Women are often the default caregivers, and they often make less, so it makes sense for them to give up their jobs. We don’t think about the essential workers (many of whom are Black and Latinx) who may live in multigenerational homes and had to fear bringing COVID into the house. Currently, President Biden’s American Families Plan proposes up to 12 weeks paid leave for qualifying workers. This is a good start, but it likely leaves caregivers out of the equation, and they can be the most in need.

According to a report by Human Impact Partners from April, if Walmart had an “adequate paid sick time policy,” they could have prevented 7,618 Covid-19 cases and 133 Covid-19 deaths. If there was federal paid leave, families would be able to take time off and care for sick relatives. And those with longhaul COVID could have time to properly heal. Across the board, the Paid Leave for All Action survey shows that people are in overwhelming support of paid leave to be able to care for a sick family member. And that’s not surprising with some 600,000 COVID deaths and more cases of illness. Those who weren’t sick enough for hospitalization still needed care, which meant that those caregivers were likely unlikely to be able to work, especially if they were working jobs where they had to interact with others.

People should be able to take time to care for their families in something like a global pandemic without also facing poverty and eviction. But it goes beyond that. Because things happen even when we’re not in a pandemic. 88 percent of all voters think that paid leave should be given to care for a new child. Anyone who has had a baby in this country knows that maternity leave is total bullshit, and paternal leave is even worse. Families should have at least 12 weeks of paid leave postpartum to be able to give their newborns their full care. And that’s for both parents, not just the birthing parent. But there should also be options for birthing parents who may need to take time off work before the birth for whatever reasons.

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Getty Images/Johner RF

Additionally, there is overwhelming support in favor of paid leave for caring for sick family leave. Undecided voters actually show the most support for it, with 95 percent (94 percent of Democrats, 90 percent of Independents and 81 percent of Republicans also support.) My father is in his late 70s and is having a host of health problems. He has my mom to care for him, but she has to work to support them both. Whenever he has an appointment, she has to take the day off to accompany him. If he needs prolonged care, they’re totally screwed. But if there were better paid leave policies in place, she would be able to take some time off to make sure that he’s set up and not have to worry about keeping food on the table and a roof over their heads.

When you look at this from a political standpoint, it really shows what Senators should be prioritizing. Those seven battleground states polled will be the ones who make the decisions about which political party has the majority of the Senate. According to the poll, Democrats win “decisively” when they support paid leave and Republicans oppose it. And as of right now, many voters would be more likely to re-elect their Senators if those senators mentioned paid leave.

“Historically, the implementation of paid leave programs has faced Republican opposition due to concerns about the additional taxes needed to pay for them and the potential burden they could pose to businesses,” Vox’s Li Zhou explained in the article. But the survey shows that 69 percent overall of those polled would “support paid leave even if it cost me a bit more in taxes.” So if Republicans want to keep their voters, it would behoove them to get on board with paid leave regardless of cost.

If the United States wants to keep parents and families safe, passing a standard federal paid leave is incredibly important. This is just as critical to American infrastructure as new roads or improving mass transit. The government can’t keep letting families down. Federal paid leave is the only way forward.

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