The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) was a momentous piece of federal legislation that secured the right of working Americans to take up to 12 unpaid weeks off of work for the birth of their child, to care for their newborn or newly adopted child, to care for a loved one with a serious illness, or to respond to their own serious illness. Its passage represented a consensus that hardworking individuals should not lose their jobs if they become seriously ill, and new parents should be given time to recover from pregnancy and bond with their new child.
However, nearly 30 years later, our country has fallen behind the rest of the world in paid leave protections. Approximately 40% of Americans do not qualify for leave under the FMLA at all, and many of those who are covered cannot afford to take unpaid leave without falling into financial distress. The United States remains the only wealthy nation in the world that does not guarantee any form of paid leave.
For working families who are living paycheck to paycheck, lack of access to paid family and medical leave policies can have dramatic effects. For example, in the year following a child’s birth, women who are able to take paid leave are 39% less likely to need public assistance than those who did not take leave. And a study on the impact of California’s paid family leave program found that paid family and medical leave decreased the risk of poverty for new mothers by just over 10%. Ultimately, nearly all workers need to take time away at some point to deal with a serious personal or family illness or to care for a new child.
Laws providing paid family and medical leave allow workers to meet these needs without jeopardizing their economic security, which strengthens working families and thereby grows the economy.
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