It has been a rallying cry for Democrats for the better part of a decade; as more women have aspired to play dual roles as both mother and professional, many liberals are looking at employers to ease the burden.
Sen. Tammy Duckworth is apparently taking the baton from former President Barack Obama in the race for family paid leave. As the pregnant Illinois senator states in a commentary that she wrote for CNN, “Across our nation, working parents face barriers to staying in the workforce. Lack of access to affordable child care and to paid family, medical and parental leave forces people to choose between taking care of their children or a sick family member and losing their job and their health insurance.”
Duckworth, an Iraqi War veteran, and Purple Heart recipient, will also become the first Senator to give birth while actively holding the elected position. She currently gives her staff 12 weeks of paid maternity leave. That is among the most generous leave packages offered on Capitol Hill. A Jan, 29, 2015, Huffington Post article reported that, while close to 90 percent of Congress members offered some sort of paid maternity leave benefits, the duration was between six and eight weeks for the majority of their policies.
These leave packages are a luxury in comparison to what non-profit organization Paid Leave for the United States reports most working women actually get. According to a report from PL+US, “Paid family leave is an elite benefit in the U.S. 94% of low-income working people have no access to paid family leave. Unequal paid family leave policies at the nation’s largest retail employers hits low-income and households of color the hardest.”
Losing access to paid family, medical and health leave “hurts our country,” according to Duckworth. “When people are forced to drop out of the workforce to take care of their children, our economy loses some of our best and brightest workers — and those workers lose out on a paycheck and any wage increases or promotions that might have come down the line.”
Rights for the working woman seem to have stalled over the past generation. Since the passage of the Family Medical Leave Act in 1993, only those who work for large companies could have enjoyed the protection.
When you factor in the cost of childcare, nearly 20 percent of income for an average family is spent on this necessity. This cost now surpasses the average cost of in-state college tuition.
As Duckworth alludes to, this problem could help explain how the US has fallen to 104th in a ranking of over 190 countries affiliated with the Inter-Parliamentary Union’s poll concerning women’s political appointment and representation. This lack of representation may attribute to the slower reform in regards to women’s health and rights policies.
Duckworth recognizes the breakthrough that the FMLA was, in 1993, but that its polish has tarnished and needs restoration. “At the time, it was an important step forward for our country, but it is nowhere near enough. For instance, the law is not comprehensive; many workers across the country are ineligible under the law and don’t qualify to receive unpaid time off, and the FMLA does little to help Americans who cannot afford to take unpaid time off.”
She refers to her own proposal, the Child Care Access Means Parents in Schools Reauthorization Act, and Senator Patty Murray’s Child Care for Working Families Act as promising signs that parents will no longer have to choose between their child and their profession with fear of losing one because of the other. “We need to do what we can to change that and make it easier for new parents to stay in the workforce.”