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To Remain A Global Economic Leader, The U.S. Has To Lead On Paid Leave

July 11, 2018
Sheila Marcelo
Forbes Magazine

Americans have never been more fixated on the news from Washington. Even in the dog days of summer, our politics are at a fever pitch. But the farthest-reaching action in Washington this week isn’t dominating headlines. On Wednesday, a Senate subcommittee is holding a hearing on a single issue that could transform our families, our workplaces, and our economy – and it’s not the Supreme Court, North Korea, or immigration. It’s paid family leave, an issue that sits at the precise intersection of our social values and our economic ambitions.

Even in this time of great division in our country, there is broad bipartisan support for paid family leave. The majority of American voters recognize that the cost of remaining the world’s last developed nation to deny parents paid leave is too high. Studies suggest we suffer higher infant mortality, more gender inequality, lower labor force participation by women, and, as a result, lower family income and overall economic growth. Access to paid leave comes with healthier children and less reliance on public assistance for families, and with lower turnover and retention costs for businesses.

Many of America’s most important companies and biggest cities and states have realized the benefits of paid leave. Deloitte, EY, Facebook, and Google all offer paid leave because, on top of its fairness, it helps them attract and retain top talent. In places like New York City, California, and my home state of Massachusetts, policymakers recognize that paid leave can help attract great companies and capable workers — as well as make small businesses and startups competitive by helping to level the playing field.

Despite these advances, only about 15% of U.S. workers have access to paid family leave – largely high-income workers. For the United States to remain an economic powerhouse, the benefits of paid family leave must reach beyond office workers on the coasts.

There’s a silver lining to being this far behind on paid leave: Decades of research and data can show us how to design a paid family leave plan for the 21st century. We’ve shared with policymakers in the White House and in Congress that any plan should contain three elements to make a meaningful difference for millions of Americans: it should reflect the nature of the modern workforce, it should address all family care needs, and it must be sustainably funded.