The argument that it’s cost-prohibitive to provide paid time off for new moms and dads is just ridiculous. It’s costing more, right now, to not have it than it would if workers could access paid leave to move easily between care and work. The problem under our current non-system is that the cost is not shared between workers and employers, both of whom would benefit from paid leave. But it is most certainly being paid!
The way we usually think about costs and value and “getting what we pay for” makes the price of NOT having a paid time off system practically invisible. Adopting a different perspective changes what you see. Rather than focusing on what paid family leave would cost, let’s think for a minute what it means economically not to have it.
This evidence is easy to find. In fact, when you open your eyes to it you find yourself stumbling over it at every turn. Then you are astonished that you never saw it before, because suddenly you realize you’re surrounded by it! (Like my daughter discovered with the word “ubiquitous.” It’s actually everywhere.)
Consider the following facts:
- a higher percentage of men than women are in the paid labor force
- women generally have more frequent and longer interruptions in employment over the course of their working lives due to caregiving
- women’s poverty rates are higher than men’s at every age
- men with children earn more than women with children in every state in the US.
Women right now are paying quite a lot because we don’t have a consistent, reliable way to move back and forth between our caregiving and income-earning roles. The total cost in the US in lost wages due to not having a national paid family leave program is estimated at over $20 billion. Just let that sink in for a minute.
My friends and colleagues at the Center for American Progress just issued a report, The Cost of Work-Family Policy Inaction. Their calculations produced that $20 billion in lost wages figure. It’s a great help in putting a dollar value on the price we are paying right now. Of course, lost income is really only the beginning. If you can’t reconcile your demands at work and at home and have to give up work for awhile, you are also losing the growth value of what you would have put away for retirement. Your future wages will be lower because of the interruption. Your savings suffer. So, $20 billion is actually a very conservative estimate.
Imagine if that $20 billion were moving through the economy in paychecks, to retirement savings, discretionary income, and household spending. It would be increasing consumer demand, creating jobs, and paying for high quality childcare. Fewer women would be poor. That would make a difference in their children’s health, education, and opportunities to develop their own potential. They, in turn, would grow into better equipped adults, earning higher incomes, developing newer technologies, driving economic expansion.
Access to paid leave, no matter where or for whom you work, would also decrease the need for public assistance and public health costs. That means serious savings for the national budget as more families are financially self-sufficient and healthier.
Keep in mind that the proposed federal paid family leave bill would allow workers up to 12 weeks a year of time to care for any family member and receive up to 2/3 of their income. The program would be funded by a small contribution from both employers and employees, about $1.24 each per week, for the average worker. It is not paid for by federal funds and would not increase the budget. It would increase costs for the employer – by about $1.24 per worker per week. And the employer benefits by lower costs in retention and recruitment, better morale, profits and productivity.
Paid family leave would benefit everyone – businesses, workers, men, women, children, aging parents, persons with disabilities. Not having it hurts us all. But it hits women the hardest economically, marginalizes the most educated sector of our work force, and ends up pushing families to the edge. It is not a hand-out. It is paid for by those who need it, benefit from it, and it keeps families economically stable.
We’re not really avoiding a cost at all. Our failure to implement an effective paid leave policy simply shifts the cost to women, in lower work force participation rates, higher poverty rates, and wage inequality. What happens to women doesn’t get nearly as much attention as what happens to men. So we focus on the alleged “cost to business.” But look at what happens to women and the economy as a result of not having it. Their economic security is compromised. That’s not good for any of us.
Is this chappin’ your khakis? Hop over to the Mom-mentum Action Alert page, and tell your members of Congress to make paid family leave a reality for the US like it is for the rest of the world. Or use WeTweet.org from the National Partnership for Women & Families to tweet directly to them.
‘Til next time,
Your (Wo)Man in Washington