- Senate Democrats are continuing to push for paid leave in President Biden’s social-spending plan.
- Research shows that paid leave increases worker productivity, which can help ease inflation.
- And, more people might be willing to go back to work if they had guaranteed pay for parental or family leave.
Top Senate Democrats are still pushing to get a paid leave program included in President Joe Biden’s nearly $2 trillion social infrastructure package — and they say it could help ease some of the greatest pressures facing the economy.
“We are fighting very hard to get national comprehensive paid leave in the Build Back Better bill,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a press call organized by paid leave advocates. “No American should have to make the awful choice between putting food on the table and taking care of their loved ones.”
It’s yet another measure that Democrats have been negotiating with key centrist Joe Manchin, who’s continued to push back on its inclusion in the social-spending bill. Currently, America is the only industrialized country with no paid leave program for parental or medical absences, and one of six countries without any guaranteed paid leave. Schumer said that it’s a “sad fact” that Americans should be ashamed of.
Senator Ron Wyden — who joined Schumer and key childcare and leave advocates Sens. Patty Murray and Kirsten Gillibrand on the call — emphasized the role that paid leave might play in helping to ease stubbornly high inflation, which grew at a 31-year high in October.
“With respect to inflation, we all know that American families are concerned about it,” Wyden said, adding: “All the economic evidence shows that guaranteed paid leave increases productivity, and increasing productivity is a force for trying to tamp down inflationary pressures.”
For instance, a study by economists affiliated with the global Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development found that, if America adopted paid maternity leave at the OECD’s average level of 15 weeks, the country’s productivity would rise by about 1.1%. An evaluation of California’s paid leave by the Bay Area Council found that smaller businesses with paid family leave saw their labor costs go down, and employment for new mothers went up.
Right now, inflation is one spectre looming over the economic recovery. Manchin’s sounded the alarm on it, and Biden seems to be anticipating another high reading on Friday. A Gallup poll conducted over the first half of November found that 45% said increasing prices had caused them at least some financial hardship.
Paid leave could also chip away at the other economic issue dominating headlines: labor shortages.
“Paid leave would have a huge impact on labor shortages,” Gillibrand said.
Take the Great Resignation, where workers are quitting en masse. Leave could help employers lure back some of the workers they’ve lost. Gillibrand said that workers might rejoin previously inflexible workplaces if there’s a national leave program.
“What happens with so many people during COVID is that if they didn’t have the ability to stay home with a child who had to be on a laptop learning, they had to quit their job,” Gillibrand said. “If they had a kid who had COVID and had to quarantine for two weeks, they had to quit their job.”
Throughout the pandemic, women’s employment has fallen behind men’s, with women’s labor force participation coming in at 57.5% compared to men’s 70.1% in November; one driver of this drop is childcare, or lack thereof.
“If we had had paid leave, all those people could have stayed in their jobs,” Gillibrand said.