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Paid Family Leave Gains Momentum for the Sandwich Generation: Those Caring for Young Children and Aging Parents

Paid family leave — to care for new children or aging relatives, or to recover from a serious health problem — is gaining some momentum in the nation’s capital, in some states and on the 2020 presidential campaign trail.

According to the new report —“Paid Family Leave: An Introduction” created by the Bipartisan Policy Center, 83 percent of workers don’t have access to a defined paid parental or caregiver leave policy and 61 percent don’t have access to medical leave.
Vicki Shabo, a senior fellow for paid leave policy and strategy at New America in Washington, D.C., which advocates for paid family and medical leave, says she sees three factors causing the momentum.

“One, a consensus around the evidence that lack of paid family and medical leave depresses women’s labor force participation and earnings, and that has ill effects on the economy,” she says.

“Two dual forces — one of declining birth rates and the growing aging population — the mismatch between the number of younger people able to care for the growing number of older people.

“And three, is really the growing body of evidence from state policies like California, New Jersey, Rhode Island, showing that paid leave policies help workers and families without harming businesses. So, allaying some of the fears and showing kind of a triple win.”

Here’s a rundown of recent developments:

In Washington, D.C.

Pros and cons of paid family leave

Arguments for paid family leave:

According to the Bipartisan Policy Center:

  • Giving fathers flexibility to take time off work in the months after their children are born is associated with improved postpartum health and mental well-being of mothers.
  • Active and regular paternal engagement with children is associated with positive cognitive and behavioral outcomes for children.

According to University of Virginia economics and public policy professor Christopher Ruhm, co-author of Time Out With Baby: The Case for Paid Parental Leave:

  • Leaves increase maternal employment for women after their leaves.
  • Leaves are associated with higher birth rates and lower mortality rates for newborns.

Arguments against paid family leave:

According to Rachel Greszler, a research fellow in economics, budget and entitlements at the Heritage Foundation and former senior economist on the staff of Congress’ Joint Economic Committee:

  • A Republican proposal to let workers tap Social Security for paid family leave, and mandated leave proposals supported by Democrats, “no matter how limited, low-cost, or non-invasive federal paid family leave may starts out, it will inevitably expand over time.”
  • The Social Security proposal would cost workers an estimated $1,300 to $2,000 more in taxes per year.

Vanessa Brown Calder, a senior policy advisor on Congress’ Joint Economic Committee, wrote before joining the committee staff:

  • If estimates by Democratic supporters of mandated paid family leave are accurate, new taxes to pay for the program would cost about $200 per year for the average worker — although other estimates put the figure at $450.
  • Like mandated leave programs in other developed nations, such a program in the United States would likely grow “substantially,” along with the costs.

👉 House approves bill

The U.S. House of Representatives on July 12 passed legislation that would apply to most federal employees. They would be able to take leave for parental or other family-related purposes and receive their regular salaries. Currently, that time is unpaid.

Specifically, the Federal Employee Paid Leave Act would provide for 12 weeks of leave during any 12-month period for the birth, adoption or foster placement of a child; care for a spouse, child or parent with a serious health condition; the employee’s own serious health condition; or for certain reasons related to military duty of a spouse, child or parent.

The measure was passed as part of a defense bill.

The measure faces opposition from Republicans in the GOP-controlled Senate. And the White House has issued a veto threat against the defense bill, although that threat did not mention the paid leave provisions.

👉 Bipartisan group backing

The Bipartisan Policy Center, a think tank that combines “the best ideas from both parties to promote health, security and opportunity for all Americans,” and has a task force on family leave, issued a report in July on family leave.

The “Paid Family Leave: An Introduction” report says 83 percent of workers don’t have access to a defined paid parental or caregiver leave policy and 61 percent don’t have access to medical leave.

The report also says many workers — particularly with more women entering the workforce and many workers being in the “sandwich” generation” — can’t afford to take unpaid family leave.

In states

👉 Oregon legislation

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat, has said she plans to sign new family and medical leave legislation.

Workers would receive up to 12 weeks of paid time off to care for new babies new adopted and foster children; care for sick family members or deal with domestic violence; or recuperate from their own serious illness.

The cost would be split 60-40 between workers and employers. Businesses with fewer than 25 employees would not have to contribute.

👉 Connecticut law

Democratic Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont signed paid family leave legislation into law in June.

Workers will be eligible for up to 12 weeks of paid time off to care for a newborn, a newly adopted or foster child, a seriously ill relative by blood or marriage or a close associate who is the equivalent of a family member. Employees dealing with their own serious health conditions or who are serving as a marrow or organ donor will also be eligible.

The maximum weekly benefit cannot exceed 60 times the minimum wage.

The plan is paid for by a 0.5 percent payroll tax levied on all employees.

“The states have shown us that paid leave can be implemented very cost effectively for both workers and employers, through small payroll deductions,” Shabo says. “This smoothes out the cost of leave for employers, particularly small employers, and it makes leave available to all working people, no matter where they work or the kind of job they have.”

2020 candidates

According to a CNBC summary of the Democratic presidential candidates’ positions on paid family leave, U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York has proposed giving 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave to any employee. The bill would be paid for by having employees and employers contribute no more than $2 per week for a typical worker to the fund. This would enable employees to earn 66 percent of their monthly wages, capped at $4,000 per month per person.

Gillibrand’s bill is supported by several other candidates seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, including U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Cory Booker of New Jersey, Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Kamala Harris of California and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.

President Donald Trump is proposing in his next federal budget six weeks’ paid leave for new parents, including adoptive parents, to recover from childbirth and care for their children.

Tom Kertscher

Milwaukee journalist Tom Kertscher was a 35-year newspaper reporter, finishing that career at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Now a freelance writer, his work includes fact-checking for PolitiFact and sports reporting for the Associated Press. His reporting on Steven Avery was featured in Making a Murderer. Kertscher is the author of sports books on Brett Favre and Al McGuire. Follow him at TomKertscher.com and on Twitter: @KertscherNews and @KertscherSports.

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