- More than 80% of Republicans and Democrats support a national paid leave policy.
- Biden’s economic relief package mandates paid leave and childcare subsidies, but the temporary fix needs to be permanent.
- Both paid leave and childcare infrastructure is critical to recover from the recession and support low-income families.
- Katie Bethell is the Founder and Executive Director of Paid Leave for the US (PL+US).
- Becka Klauber Richter is President and Co-founder of Helpr, a backup childcare company.
- This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the authors.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
On her first day back at work after her maternity leave, Meghan McCain, a Republican, called on the government to institute a national paid maternity leave policy for all new mothers. After experiencing an emergency C-section and postpartum health issues that left her physically unable to bathe or eat without help, she noted that she now understood just how critical maternity leave is to the wellbeing of our children and the wellbeing of women in this country.
A conservative herself, she pointed out the hypocrisy of a Republican party that touts itself as the party of family values, while denying mothers even a few weeks of critical time needed to heal, bond, and care for their children at the beginning of their lives.
McCain is a new arrival to the camp for a national paid leave program, but many of her fellow Republicans are not. For years, polls have consistently shown broad bipartisan support for paid leave, with more than 80% of Republican and Democrats favoring a national policy. But McCain’s recognition of the need for paid leave is just one part of the story; childcare infrastructure is just as essential.
Fortunately, President Joe Biden’s recently announced economic relief package mandates paid leave and childcare subsidies, but the bill is only temporary – A permanent policy needs to be in place.
There is a critical link between paid leave and childcare infrastructure
With no national paid leave program in place, one in four mothers must find childcare for their infants at two weeks old, because they have no choice but to return to work. Most of these parents fall in lower income brackets or are Black or Latino. Rather than stay home to care for their infant and receive a stipend to cover their rent and bills, these women must not only go out to work with bodies still healing from childbirth, they must also spend money they may not have on childcare costs – which are exorbitant at the best of times – and even more so for infant care.
That is, if a parent can even find a spot for their infant. The critical shortage of childcare in our country looks even worse if you are seeking care for an infant. Data from the American Center for Progress showed that in a sampling of 19 states and the District of Columbia, there are more than four children under age 3 for every licensed childcare spot available. This equates to enough childcare for only 23% of infants and toddlers.
More than 80% of the counties examined in the study would be classified as infant and toddler childcare deserts. Where this leaves us is with parents who have to quit their jobs to care for newborns, or parents who have no choice but to resort to patchwork solutions.
We need paid leave and childcare to recover from the recession
Recent studies show that if we don’t address this need for paid leave and childcare, our economy will have difficulty recovering from this pandemic. Only half of the childcare jobs that were lost earlier in the pandemic have returned, and that translates into millions of spots in daycares around the country gone.
With no childcare, many essential jobs – from manufacturing to healthcare – simply cannot be done. With no paid leave, millions of parents will have to choose between a job and caring for their child. A recent analysis done by the Center for American Progress revealed that 700,000 working parents with children under the age of 5 have left the workforce. Most of them were women.
An analysis by the National Women’s Law Center showed that in September, Black women and Latinas both saw double-digit unemployment rates, nearly double the unemployment rates for white men and white women.
Previous emergency paid leave provisions filled some of these gaps, but those have expired now. Last week, President Biden released details of the American Rescue Package which includes emergency paid leave and sick leave for all working people and expanded childcare subsidies. Beyond that, the Biden administration has signaled support for policies that support working families, including a childcare tax credit for low- and middle-income families, an infusion of capital into childcare providers, and emergency paid leave in the relief package.
The emergency provisions should be thought of as a blueprint for what we can build towards on a permanent basis. The pandemic has laid bare just how much has been wrong for families for how long, but it was not the cause of our broken system. It merely revealed just how broken it was.
Paid leave and other policies that support working families, such as childcare subsidies, have been proven to be very beneficial to businesses as well. Employers in the state of California, where there is a state-wide paid family leave program, report that paid family leave has an overwhelmingly positive impact on productivity, profitability and employee morale. Unemployment and labor shortages too cannot be addressed without a combination of paid time off for parents and childcare.
We need to come together to care for families
As advocates for paid leave and better childcare infrastructure, we celebrate that a prominent Republican is using her platform to turn up the pressure for paid leave, and that the incoming Biden administration already recognizes its importance. We are in a moment where we can make actual political progress on one issue many of us already agree on. On Colorado’s recent paid leave ballot initiative (which resoundingly succeeded), people across the political spectrum voted for paid leave.
Biden’s emergency relief bill is a good first step. Now is the time for the Senate to pass a federal policy that not only gives infants time with their parents at the beginning of their lives, but also sets up businesses with the childcare infrastructure that will provide millions of working parents the solid foundation they need to thrive at work and at home.
We must come together to pass policies that reflect the values we share. Whether we are Republican, Democrat, or independent voters, family is very important to us, both personally and as a nation. Paid leave may not heal our country, but it will be good for our kids and our economy.