Right-wing media figures misleadingly attacked and dismissed the need for paid parental leave after President Obama's State of the Union speech advocated for expanding these programs to more Americans. In fact, economists have found that increasing paid leave would boost the economy, increase wages, and keep families out of poverty.
President Obama's State of the Union Address Promotes Paid Parental Leave
President Obama: “We're The Only Advanced Country On Earth That Doesn't Guarantee Paid Sick Leave Or Paid Maternity Leave To Our Workers.” In his January 2015 State of the Union address to Congress, President Obama noted that the United States is the only advanced country without guaranteed paid family leave or sick leave for workers, and noted the necessity for policies that help protect parents as an overall economic benefit. He added that he planned to take new action to help states adopt paid leave laws of their own. From the speech:
It's time we stop treating childcare as a side issue, or a women's issue, and treat it like the national economic priority that it is for all of us. And that's why my plan will make quality childcare more available, and more affordable, for every middle-class and low-income family with young children in America by creating more slots and a new tax cut of up to $3,000 per child, per year.
Here's another example. Today, we're the only advanced country on Earth that doesn't guarantee paid sick leave or paid maternity leave to our workers. Forty-three million workers have no paid sick leave. Forty-three million. Think about that. And that forces too many parents to make the gut-wrenching choice between a paycheck and a sick kid at home. So I'll be taking new action to help states adopt paid leave laws of their own. [Medium, 1/20/15]
AP: President's Plan Includes $2 Billion “To Encourage States To Create Paid Family And Medical Leave Programs.” The Associated Press reported that the president's proposal includes more than $2 billion to encourage states to offer paid-leave programs, in addition to providing federal employees “with up to six weeks of paid sick leave to care for a new child. And he'll propose that Congress pass legislation to give federal workers an additional six weeks of paid parental leave.” [Associated Press, 1/16/15]
Politifact: Only 13 Percent Of U.S. Workers Currently Have Access To Paid Family Leave. Politifact found that “the United States has the smallest population of women eligible for paid maternity leave among developed countries,” with only 13 percent of workers having access to some paid leave:
Under the Family Medical Leave Act, employers with 50 or more workers must allow parents 12 weeks of job-protected leave annually to care for a newborn. While this means those individuals can take the time off without fear of losing their job, in most cases the leave is unpaid.
There are a couple of exceptions. California, New Jersey and Rhode Island offer paid family leave through employee-paid payroll taxes, and Washington state passed a bill to establish paid maternity leave but later reversed course.
Additionally, some employers offer paid maternity leave even though it's not required. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 13 percent of workers had access to some kind of paid family leave, up 1 percentage point from 2013.
Compared to the rest of the developed world, that's very low.
According to the International Labor Organization, an agency of the United Nations, the United States joins New Guinea as the two countries out of 170 that provide no cash benefits of any kind to women during maternity leave. [Politifact, 1/21/15]
Right-Wing Media Attack Paid Family Leave As “Hurting” Women
Fox's Guests Baselessly Speculate Paid Leave Will Have Negative Consequences. During a segment attacking Obama's State of the Union proposals, Fox host Gretchen Carlson baselessly speculated with her guests -- National Review's Katherine Timpf and Fox Business' Gerri Willis -- that the proposal to devote money to encouraging paid parental leave programs might stop businesses from hiring women, and claimed the proposal would have “negative consequences” against women. From Fox News' The Real Story:
KATHERINE TIMPF: A thing like parental leave, maternity leave? Again, everybody wants that. If you're a business, you're not offering that, that's horrible. You should be offering that. But, you have another option, if you're a business and you don't want to have to offer this free maternity leave, don't hire women. So this could have unintended consequences, negatively against women even more.
GRETCHEN CARLSON: That is a great point. Because if you have to provide maternity leave, full pay, and some companies may not, or paid sick and parental leave, then could it be,Gerri, that companies won't hire women, which would have the reverse effect?
GERRI WILLIS: That's absolutely right. You know, if you're going to penalize companies in some way, they're going to make up for it on the other end. [Fox News, The Real Story, 1/21/15]
Daily Caller Hypes Claim That Paid Family Leave Will “Force” Businesses To Cut Wages, Layoff Workers. The Daily Caller cited the Independent Women's Forum's Sabrina Schaeffer to hype the claim that mandating paid maternity leave would force some businesses “to cut wages, reduce hours and layoff workers -- actually hurting some women.” [The Daily Caller, 1/21/15]
Paid Family Leave Boosts Wages And Keeps Individuals Out Of Poverty
Rutgers Center For Women And Work: “Paid Family Leave Increases Wages For Women With Children.” According to the Rutgers Center for Women and Work, “Paid family leave increases wages for women with children”:
Women who report leaves of 30 or more days are 54% more likely to report wage increases in the year following the child's birth than are women who take no leave at all. [Rutgers Center for Women and Work, January 2012]
Rutgers: Men And Women With Paid Parental Leave Are Significantly Less Likely To Go On Public Assistance Or Food Stamps. The Rutgers Center for Women and Work study found that:
Women who return to work after a paid leave have a 39% lower likelihood of receiving public assistance and a 40% lower likelihood of food stamp receipt in the year following the child's birth, when compared to those who return to work and take no leave at all.
Men who return to work after a paid family leave have a significantly lower likelihood of receiving public assistance and food stamps in the year following the child's birth, when compared to those who return to work and take no family leave at all. [Rutgers Center for Women and Work, January 2012]
Paid Parental Leave Benefits the Economy And Employer Profits
NY Times: Paid Leave Is “One Of The Most Powerful Tools” To Increase Female Labor Force Participation, In Turn Boosting The Economy. The New York Times' The Upshot blog explained that female labor force participation is on the decline, and that several economic studies have found that contrary to conservative claims that the policy would force women out of the workforce, mandating paid leave would actually encourage more women to stay at work in the long-term, helping the economy:
[N]ew approaches could help women complete the decades-long transition into the labor force. One of the most powerful tools would be to mandate policies like paid leave, according to a report published this month by the White House Council of Economic Advisers.
In the last decade, the report points out, other developed countries adopted a variety of policies to help working parents, like paid family leave, subsidized child care and support for part-time work. The United States, meanwhile, did very little, which is why it no longer leads European countries in female labor force participation.
“It's sort of a no-brainer to think about it: If you don't have child care, you're going to have fewer women in the labor force,” said Betsey Stevenson, a member of the Council of Economic Advisers who is on leave as an economics and public policy professor at the University of Michigan.
Paid leave provides job continuity, economists say, so women are less likely to leave the labor force. Paid leave is particularly important for low-income mothers. [The New York Times, The Upshot, 7/28/14]
Institute For Women's Policy Research: Paid Family Leave Increases Consumer Spending And Generates A Larger Tax Base. The Institute for Women's Policy Research (IWPR) found that in addition to helping businesses thrive, expanding paid leave is likely to have “economy-wide benefits” such as “generating a larger tax base and increased consumer spending”:
[P]aid family leave increases labor market attachment, economic security, and the health and welfare of families and children, and has the potential to help businesses thrive, reduce spending on public benefits programs, and promote economic growth and competitiveness.
Research further suggests that expanding paid leave is likely to have economy-wide benefits such as reduced government spending on public assistance and increased labor force participation, which would bring concomitant economic gains, generating a larger tax base and increased consumer spending. [Institute for Women's Policy Research, March 2014]
IWPR: Paid Family Leave Could Increase U.S. GDP By 5 percent. According to the IWPR, because paid family leave would increase labor force participation, it could have an economic benefit of adding as much as 5 percent to the U.S.'s GDP:
Higher labor force participation, either by men or women (or both), affects growth by increasing inputs to production. More labor typically results in higher levels of output as long as the capital stock can expand to accommodate it. Since the effect of paid leave on labor force participation rates is typically much higher for women than men, offering paid leave can help push the economy towards gender equality in labor force participation. This equality has obvious implications for economic growth. Aguirre, Hoteit, Rupp, and Sabbagh (2012) find, for example, that increasing women's labor force participation rates to equal that of their male counterparts would increase GDP substantially in many countries. In the United States, GDP could be increased by 5 percent. [Institute for Women's Policy Research, March 2014]
Center For American Progress: Studies Found Paid Leave Increases Company Profits And Value. According to the Center for American Progress (CAP), studies showed that employers who provided work-family programs such as paid maternity leave increased “employee productivity, which in turn increases employer profitability.” Another study found that the value of Fortune 500 companies also increased after instituting such programs:
Another study finds that work-family policies positively affect firms' value. Using data collected from Fortune 500 companies, Professors Michelle M. Arthur and Alison Cook found that announcements in The Wall Street Journal of a company instituting work-family policies increased the share price of the firm the same day. The authors explain that investors believe that the benefits of the work-family policies will outweigh the costs of the program, thereby increasing the expected profitability of the company. [Center for American Progress, 12/12/13]
CEPR: In California, 91 Percent Of Employers Said New Law Had Either A Positive Or Non-Noticeable Effect On Profitability. According to the Center for Economic and Policy Research, after California instituted a paid family leave policy the vast majority of employers thought the policy had positive or negligible effects on productivity, profitability, turnover, and morale:
Most employers report that PFL had either a “positive effect” or “no noticeable effect” on productivity (89 percent), profitability/performance (91 percent), turnover (96 percent), and employee morale (99 percent). [Center for Economic and Policy Research, 2011]
Paid Leave Is Popular Policy Among People Of All Political Parties
Wash. Post: 81 Percent Say “Paid Time Off To Care For Family Members And Affordable Child Care 'Is Good For Our Nation.'” The Washington Post reported that a majority of Democrats, Independents, and Republicans in a recent poll all agreed that ensuring paid time off for family care was good for the nation, in addition to large majorities who are in favor of paid sick time:
Large majorities of voters of all persuasions said they are in favor of paid sick days, equal pay for equal work and affordable child and elder care, and 73 percent say the government has a responsibility to ensure employers treat employees fairly by providing them with such policies. About 70 percent said that workplace laws and policies are out of synch with the changing realities of modern families, and with the changing roles of men and women at work and at home.
And 81 percent - 94 percent Democrats, 80 percent of Independents and 65 percent of Republicans - agree that workplace rules to ensure equal pay, paid time off to care for family members and affordable child care “is good for our nation.” [The Washington Post, 1/21/15]
National Partnership For Women And Families: Poll Showed 86 Percent Support Paid Parental Leave. A 2012 poll conducted by the National Partnership for Women and Families found 86 percent supported considering new laws for paid parental leave -- including 73 percent of Republicans. [The Washington Post, 1/25/14]
Huffington Post Poll: Majority Support Requiring Employers To Offer Paid Maternity Leave. A Huffington Post/YouGov poll found that 61 percent of respondents supported “requiring employers to offer paid maternity leave.” A plurality also supported requiring paternity leave. [Huffington Post, 6/20/13]