Opinion | Grass and Roots: Four measly weeks
With paid family leaving coming down the Build Back Better pipeline, America takes its first steps to catch up with the rest of the world
By Christina Thor
When the Build Back Better Act becomes law, the United States will join other countries in providing paid family and medical leave for workers. In November, legislators slashed the originally proposed 12 weeks of paid leave down to four short weeks.
This could be considered a historic “win” for working Americans if we weren’t scraping the bottom of the barrel.
Four weeks are all hardworking Americans have been allotted to bond with a new child, recover from a serious illness, or attend to a family member who needs care.
You’d think after living through two years of a continued global health crisis, prioritizing the need for more intentional paid leave would be a top priority for your representatives in Washington. You’d be mistaken.
There are currently 100 million people in this country who do not have a single day of paid leave, one-in-four American women who return to work within 10 days of giving birth and less than one-in-four men who have access to paternity leave, according to the advocacy group Paid Leave for the United States.
Not to mention the mountains of saved vacation time, paid or unpaid, new mothers often have to take for childbirth, recovery and bonding with a child who depends on them every waking moment.
The International Labor Organization recommends 18 weeks of paid parental leave for the best health of new babies and birthing parents. United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) recommends up to six months.
Though four weeks is disappointing, it’s a start.
Until the day paid leave is fully implemented and tackled, low-wage workers will remain the least likely to have access to those benefits. Once again, this country places another brick on the back of low-wage workers and communities of color who often bear the brunt of the inequities in our society.
One commendable element of the paid leave bill is its broad definition of family and caregiving, as it would cover care for all types of loved ones, including in-laws, domestic partners and people who are “equivalent” to family. Expanding the definition of family and caregiving successfully reflects the reality of our society, by ridding the traditional standard policies that only accommodate nuclear families.
For far too long, the people of this country have been conditioned to conform to historical, institutional policies that no longer serve them. The world is changing, and so is our economy. Our workforce policies need to continue evolving along with our society to reflect the needs of our hard-working Americans.
When our workforce creates policies to provide better work-family balance, it improves economic status, quality of life and eventually allows our entire economy to flourish.
The approved four weeks of paid leave is just the beginning. Next, we need to expand the paid leave duration as well as fight for affordable and equitable childcare policies and non-discriminatory housing for working families.
Christina Thor, a Green Bay native, is the state director of 9to5 Wisconsin, a grassroots, public policy organizing organization serving working women, especially women who have or are currently experiencing workforce discrimination, through a gender justice and racial equity lens. Christina has experience in civic engagement, communications and nonprofit development throughout the Midwest. Christina is a board member of the Hmong American Partnership and member of a local immigration task force.
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