Cross-posted from the Huffington Post.
Sometimes, I think paid leave is a little like good health. Those who have it take it for granted, and those who don’t can’t imagine life without the struggles that lacking it can bring.
Those of us who are lucky enough to have paid family leave through our employers — which is just 13 percent of U.S. workers — have the security that comes with knowing we can stay home when a baby is born or a loved one needs care without our income plummeting or our jobs disappearing. Workers in California, New Jersey and Rhode Island have this security too, thanks to paid family leave programs in place in those states.
Of course, members of Congress also have the option and freedom to take paid leave, and sometimes I worry that it’s too easy for those of us who have it to forget what life is like for those who don’t. It can mean having to choose between paying rent and being there when your child is born.
It can mean not knowing if you will have a job after having to leave work to care for an ailing parent. It can mean going into bankruptcy when your spouse is dying of cancer. It can mean missing out on the joys and learning moments of new parenthood so you can put food on the table.
Nobody should forget these very real struggles for families across the country. And nobody should forget that paid leave is a family issue — not just a women’s issue. Men, like women, want to be good parents and good caregivers for their families. Yet the vast majority of men don’t have access to supportive workplace policies that would enable them to do so.
Only 20 percent of private sector workers in the United States are employed at worksites that offer paid paternity leave to most employees, and only 9 percent are employed at worksites that offer it to all employees. And even when men do have access to paid family leave, they can face stigma, harassment and discrimination for taking it.
That’s why I shake my head when I look at the list of Family And Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act co-sponsors. It is growing, but there are still so many terrific, engaged fathers missing. The FAMILY Act would allow men and women to receive some pay when they need time off of work for family or medical reasons, no matter where they live or who they work for. The benefits to the country’s workplace culture, children, families, businesses and economy would be tremendous.
So, this Father’s Day, I’m issuing a challenge. Once you’re done showing your love and appreciation for the fathers in your life, take a minute to ask the dads who represent you in Congress — in the House or the Senate — to step up and co-sponsor the FAMILY Act. Remind them that paid leave is an issue that’s critically important for America’s dads.
If we do that, and build support and pass this legislation, America’s fathers and mothers will have a gift that will strengthen families now and for generations to come.