In 1979 when I had my second child, I worked at a local university. I gave birth to my son early Wednesday morning, and had to be back to the office the following Saturday morning to finish a legal brief.
Yes, I had some unpaid time thereafter to stay home with him, but those six weeks passed all too fast and I was too soon back to work. Although I was fortunate to have a progressive thinking boss, and was able to take unpaid leave, juggling family and work was exhausting and challenging.
Not much has changed for most women and their partners since then.
Despite improvements made with the passage of the Family Medical Leave Act in 1993, the United States of America is the ONLY industrialized country without a national paid family leave program. Putting this into perspective, only 13% of United States’ private workforce has access to paid family leave through their employer, and most of those employees have comparatively well-paying jobs.
This is a travesty that should be fixed through a national program. However, until we have a Congress that will act on social fairness and family needs, we must work locally to ensure our babies have time to bond, and our families are healthy.
Discussions are underway for a state-wide approach to paid family leave. Yesterday on the University of Washington campus I co-hosted a symposium along with Councilmembers Herbold and González, the UW School of Social Work and the School of Public Health to consider what the city of Seattle and Washington State can do to bring paid family leave to our workers. Thanks go to Sen. Karen Keiser from the 33rd District, Rep. June Robinson from the 38th District, and Rep. Noel Frame from the 36th District who joined us, and appreciation goes to Rep. Ruth Kagi and Rep. Cindy Ryu from the 32nd District, Rep. Jessyn Farrell from the 46th, and Sen. Reuven Carlyle from the 36th whose staff attended.
State and city elected officials, academics, advocacy groups, labor organizations, policy analysts and business representatives joined together to discuss nationwide best practices, evidence supporting the benefits of paid family leave, the workers’ needs, and the hurdles employers face.
Dean Howard Frumkin from the UW’s Public Health summarized the themes we heard as follows:
- Local jurisdictions are laboratories. We learn from others including California, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island with strong programs in place. These states have programs building on their workers’ comp insurance and temporary disability insurance programs.
- Health policies and solid economic policies are good for families, workers, and business.
- The First 1000 Days for a baby’s life are critical. Good prenatal care, good health care have been shown to be determiners for a child’s future health and success.
- Paid family leave promotes equity and fairness, particularly for women who are the primary care giver in most families.
- Evidence and growing best practices must be used to craft best social and economic policies. Think ahead to establish base lines and measure how employers, employees, parents and children are impacted locally.
- The US ranks 35th in health outcomes, dropping continuously since the 1950’s. Growing economic inequities account for much of this downward trend.
Thank you to all our fabulous presenters, Morgan Beach from the Seattle Women’s Commission, Jared Make from A Better Balance in NYC, Adam Burtle and Dr. Steven Bezruchka from the UW, Maya Rosin- Slater assistant professor at UC Santa Barbara, Ellen Love from San Francisco’s Office of Labor Standards Enforcement, Dan Spaulding from the Zillow Group, Teresa Mosqueda from the Washington State Labor Council, Marilyn Watkins from the Economic Opportunity Institute and co-host Dean Howard Frumkin. Your willingness to share your experiences and insights will help us promote good legislation in the State of Washington this upcoming session.
Special thanks to my friend and colleague Sally Clark not only for co-hosting this event, but also for the continued collaboration with the UW around important and pressing issues such as paid family leave.
Power Point presentations from the event can be found on my website here.