1 According to the “Zero Weeks” documentary, the United States and Papua New Guinea are the only nations that don't offer some form and length of paid family leave. Why hasn't the idea taken hold in America?
Isn't that surprising? But yes, the United States is one of the only countries that doesn't guarantee some form of paid leave to workers. Many countries offer very generous paid leave programs to new parents or seriously ill individuals, or even mandate minimum paid vacation time. There are a lot of theories about why that hasn't happened here – from the fact that we did not need to rebuild our country after either of the world wars to our sense of individualism and beyond.
However, that's changing. Paid leave has strong bipartisan support in poll after poll. States are taking action on paid leave with increasing frequency, and now conversations have begun at the national level about what a national paid leave program might look like. So it seems likely that we won't be an outlier for long!
2 What are some ways paid family leave can benefit families and communities?
Most employees will, at some point in their working years, need time off for their own medical emergency, to welcome a new baby, or to care for a spouse or aging parent. When they can take that time without worrying about how they are going to pay the bills or whether or not they will have a job to go back to, there are a host of benefits for families, communities and the economy: healthier families because people are better able to care for one another, healthier workplaces because sick or exhausted workers aren't pushing themselves to get back on the job before they are ready, and a healthier economy because households have fewer sudden gaps in income and because well-supported family caregivers actually reduce costs to all of us by ensuring that newborns get to well-child appointments, preventing hospital readmissions or delaying nursing home placements.
3 Somebody has to pay for this. Does this place a burden on small businesses?
I think it's fair to say we're currently paying for not having paid leave – just like we pay for flat tires and bent rims when we don't invest in well-maintained roads. When states or countries set up paid leave programs, they are making an investment in families that pays dividends. The programs typically spread the costs across all employees and/or businesses, so the price tag is really small – like a pack of gum per week small. When an employee is in the hospital or on paternity leave, his pay comes from the fund. During that time, the employer can use the money she would have paid to that employee to cover overtime or to make a temporary hire.
So a paid leave program can actually be a benefit to small business owners who may want to offer paid leave to attract and retain talented workers or to maintain healthy and loyal employees, but feel nervous about funding the benefit all on their own. When it's set up as a state or national program, it's also portable for employees – they carry the benefit from job to job. Given our new economy, this has become a very popular concept and one that provides a great deal of comfort to workers who anticipate changing companies or even professions many times over the course of their working lives.
4 In 2017, Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb declared state employees could be granted up to four weeks of paid parental leave. But efforts to institute even a voluntary paid-leave program for private businesses have fallen short. Is the question of paid family leave better addressed at the state level or the national level?
I applaud Governor Holcomb and (Fort Wayne) Mayor (Tom) Henry and the other leaders who are adding parental leave for civil servants, and I have spoken to state and local employees who are incredibly grateful to have had that time to focus on their families. But we need to think about private-sector workers, too: of the nearly two-and-three-quarter million Hoosiers who work in the private sector, fewer than half have access to medical leave, and only about 13% have access to paid family leave. Creating broader access – whether through state or federal action – would result in stronger families, healthier Hoosiers, and a more robust economy. Policymakers at all levels should be racing to get this done.
5 Are there other family-friendly policies you'd like to see implemented?
The Indiana Institute for Working Families conducts research and engages in advocacy to change policies so that more families can achieve and maintain economic self-sufficiency. Because there are many barriers that keep financial well-being out of reach for families, we end up working on a host of issues, from workplace policies like paid leave to consumer protection to post-secondary education to safety net programs like child care vouchers and nutrition assistance. So, the short answer is, yes! There are lots of policies we'd like to see implemented!
A free local screening of “Zero Weeks” hosted by AARP and the city of Fort Wayne will take place at 6 p.m. June 18 in the auditorium on Manchester University's Fort Wayne campus, 10627 Diebold Road. A discussion will follow.