Family Matters

The United States’ longstanding status as a global outlier without a nationwide paid family and medical leave could be changing. 

Congress is poised to fill the gap in care infrastructure by passing a long-awaited family leave policy this month through budget reconciliation, ending its tenure as one of the few industrialized countries without one.

House Democrats on the Ways and Means Committee took their first steps toward developing the federal program in a markup hearing last week. The plan they developed could pave the way for most workers to collect at least two-thirds of their earnings if they are absent for reasons including childbirth or illness, with additional sums set aside for lower-income families.

Passing paid leave is likely to expedite our post-COVID economic recovery. One new survey shows paid family leave policies could help get many Americans who have been sidelined from the workforce during the pandemic back to work. 

Currently, 79% of workers do not have access to paid family leave, while 60% do not have access to paid medical leave. The survey found 37% of unemployed Americans said they would return to work sooner if their employer offered paid family leave, including 45% of unemployed caregivers.

The fate of paid leave and the scale of the federal program will largely be driven by negotiations in the Senate in the weeks ahead. But paid leave is one of the most popular economic policies included in the Build Back Better Plan, enjoying broad bipartisan support among voters in swing states leading up to the 2022 midterms.

One recent poll found 84% of likely voters— including 74% of Republicans— support paid leave programs. And 69% of those polled, including 55% of surveyed Republicans, would support a federal leave standard even if they’d have to pay more in taxes to sustain it.