Every year, as the air turns colder, we turn inward to family and friends and give thanks. While the holiday itself has a complicated history in our nation, the Thanksgiving table is wonderfully malleable, with folks preparing beloved family recipes or enticing new sides, mixing in dishes from many cultural influences alongside steadfast American traditional staples. Dinner may be earlier in the day to accommodate children, elders, or working people who need to head in for a long Black Friday shift. Folding tables are brought out to make space, benches and armchairs are pulled up to ensure there is room for everyone. Whether the table is full of multiple generations, chosen family, near-strangers or a few gathered friends, everyone has a seat.
In this season, it is important to reflect on these relationships that enrich our lives. Things that remain the same from year to year are comforting, and things that have changed — new children, graduations, illnesses, or lost loved ones – bring reasons to come together to celebrate or cope.
It reminds us that, in the fight for paid family and medical leave, we must never lose sight of the relationships that are at the heart of our work: the grandpa who is helping to raise his beloved grandchildren; the daughter supporting her mother after surgery; the blurry-eyed new parents; the wife caring for her husband after a combat injury; the uncle setting his life aside to be there after each round of his niece’s chemotherapy. This is whom we dishonor when we delay action on a comprehensive national paid leave policy.
Only 19 percent of working people in this country have access to paid family leave through their employer, with huge disparities in access by wage level and job type. When it comes to access to medical leave, only 40 percent of us have personal medical leave through an employer-provided short-term disability program.
The lack of paid leave has particularly devastating consequences for people of color that compound and exacerbate longstanding discrimination, institutionalized racism and vast income and wealth disparities. Women of color are more likely to be breadwinners and caregivers for their families and are therefore bearing the brunt of these disparities.
Right now, there are more than 43 million family caregivers in the United States, and this number will only continue to grow. More caregiving is falling onto working people, often leading them to cut back hours or leave the workforce altogether, which can lead to hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost wages, Social Security and private pensions. Our families, businesses and economy are paying the cost of political inaction.
In the months ahead, we will continue to urge Congress to take action to advance comprehensive, inclusive national paid family and medical leave and reject proposals that are at best ineffective and at worst harmful. This includes cynical plans that would cut families’ child tax credit or raid the Social Security trust fund while leaving out millions of working people.
The Family And Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act is the only paid leave proposal before Congress that would address the full range of caregiving needs that working people face. It is a plan that would be inclusive of everyone at your Thanksgiving table. This approach is modeled off of successful programs in eight states and D.C. and is the model preferred by voters across political parties, as well as small businesses and leading brands.
Wherever you are headed this holiday, remember to give thanks for the rich and loving relationships that sustain us in good times and bad. Think of the Thanksgiving tables all around you, and all that we have to gain from a national paid leave policy that supports our families’ needs to bond, care and heal. Ask Congress to pass the FAMILY Act without delay – and encourage your friends and families to do the same. We need you in this fight. We’ve saved you a seat.