Why the U.S. Desperately Needs a National Paid Family and Medical Leave Program

by | May 3, 2013 | Paid Leave

Cross-posted from What To Expect.

The United States is the only industrialized nation that does not guarantee some type of paid time off for employees, despite ample evidence that paid leave policies benefit workers, businesses, and the economy.

Having a baby is the most expensive health event for families during childbearing years; 13 percent of all families become poor within a month of delivery. But there’s another side. Paid leave offers major benefits — both to families and employers (see graphic, right).

As you can see, new mothers who take paid leave are more likely to return to — and stay at — their jobs and even experience wage increases. And they are less likely to need food stamps or public assistance.

Paid leave also has significant health benefits for new mothers and their babies. New mothers who have paid leave are more likely than those who don’t to take the six to eight weeks of leave recommended by doctors. And newborns of mothers with access to paid leave are more likely to be breastfed, receive medical check-ups, and get critical immunizations. The mere presence of a parent can reduce an ill child’s hospital stay — and help prevent future health care problems and the costs associated with them.

We also know that access to paid leave sharply increases the rate at which fathers take leave when a child is born, providing significant benefits for children and families. Studies show that when fathers take leave, they’re more likely to be involved in the long-term, direct care of their children.

These data are compelling, but people and their stories are what make the case for a national paid leave standard so strong. If Audrey from California had been able to take paid leave when her husband was hit by a car just days after her first child was born, she might not have had to burn through the family’s savings or turn to public assistance to survive. In Audrey’s case, the FMLA protected her job at a critical moment — but it could not provide the full support her family needed.

It is unacceptable that experiences like Audrey’s are so common. And they really only scratch the surface of the many reasons people need leave — which include pregnancy and childbirth but also serious illnesses and myriad caregiving responsibilities. It has been 20 years since Congress passed the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), the only law that allows millions of mothers, fathers, adult children, and other hardworking people to care for their health and their families without having to worry about losing their jobs or their health insurance. It is long past time for lawmakers to take the next step by expanding the FMLA to cover more workers who need leave for more reasons, and by establishing the national paid family and medical leave insurance program the nation urgently needs.

Read some of the real stories of families whose lives have been impacted by the Family and Medical Leave Act here, and read the real stories of moms who could have benefited from a national paid leave standard here.

Then tell your members of Congress it’s time for a family-friendly America here. To find out if you’re eligible for leave under the FMLA, or to get involved in efforts to expand the law and pass a national paid leave program, visit

Debra Ness is the president of the National Partnership for Women & Families, which drafted and led the fight to pass the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) 20 years ago. The organization promotes fairness in the workplace, access to quality affordable health care, and policies that help women and men meet the dual demands of work and family. For more than three decades, Ness has been a strong advocate for fairness and social justice, possessing a unique understanding of the issues that face women and families at home, in the workplace, and in the health care arena.