Having to Choose Between Your Job and A Loved One

By: Becky Beaver, YDA Women’s Caucus Communications Director

It’s no secret that starting a family is very expensive. According to the National Center for Children in Poverty, 21% of children live in families with incomes below the federal poverty threshold. As people embark on the decision to start a family, they must consider many financial factors long before a baby is due. When most people think of the costs of raising a child, they think: diapers, formula, medical expenses, and clothing, and clothing just to name a few. Whether a woman is recovering from childbirth or bonding with an adopted child, most parents want to take time to adjust to life with a newborn and be able to provide the adequate care babies need in their earliest stages.

In 1993, Bill Clinton signed the Family and Medical Leave Act into law. This legislation provided employees of larger companies 12 weeks of unpaid leave along with a continuation of health benefits for a new child, partner, or taking the leave to handle individual health issues.  While the Family and Medical Leave Act was groundbreaking for its time, it hasn’t evolved much and still leaves a lot to be desired. The cost of living has rose significantly since the 90s, so to not receive a paycheck for 12 weeks is devastating to the average American. Also, this legislation does not protect employees of smaller companies and those who have been with a company for less than a year. Currently only 14% of Americans have paid family leave offered to them. Unless you live in D.C, California, New York, Washington, Rhode Island, or New Jersey; you’re most likely out of luck.

Both Democrats and Republicans agree that paid family leave is an issue worth considering. So if both political parties agree that paid family leave is a need for families, why are we allowing businesses to govern the time new families can bond without the sacrifice of their paycheck?

The lack of paid family leave for employees often hurts women more than men. Since women are traditionally paid less than men, women are forced to take on unpaid leave while their partner continues to struggle to make ends meet. This lack of paid leave is even more financially devastating to single mothers. By not having broad sweeping paid family leave signed into law, women often are forced to choose between starting families or having careers. Women shouldn’t have to fear taking the time to nurture a child that they may be forced into raising into poverty.

While the United States is seen as a beacon of hope to many across the world, it is one of the weakest in offering paid family leave. By offering paid family leave, families have more time to make adjustments to a new little one, babies tend to be healthier, and it improves overall quality of life and care by not losing income. When parents are offered paid family leave, it gives them the ability to give quality care to a child without the burden of worrying over finances.  We know starting a family can be expensive, so why are we starting families at a disadvantage when we don’t have to? If “corporations are people,” then they need to treat their employees like people as well and the government needs to create policies that force them to do so. Not only is offering paid family leave compassionate, it’s common sense.