It’s the middle of the workweek and you wake up to prepare for work only to find you have the flu. Some Americans are then faced with the question of, “Should I stay home and lose a day’s pay, or should I tough it out and head to the office?” President Obama wants to make sure you no longer have to ask yourself this question—at least for seven days of the year.
In last week’s State of the Union address, President Obama discussed the necessity for parental and sick leave for all American employees. The president was referencing the January 15 White House announcement that proposed passing legislation to give federal employees six weeks of paid parental leave after the birth or adoption of a child and up to seven sick days per year. The president also plans to create a $2 billion incentive fund to help states pay for family leave programs.
“Today, we’re the only advanced country on Earth that doesn’t guarantee paid sick leave or paid maternity leave to our workers,” Obama declared. “Really, it’s 2015. It’s time.”
Many agree with the president that it is in fact time, sharing the belief that providing sick days leads to improved productivity and lower health care costs for businesses. Children also collect benefits since parents would be able to stay home with their sick child.
CNN Money reports, “Nearly 43 million private-sector workers don’t get paid leave, according to the White House.” According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the majority of these 43 million workers are part-time, work for small businesses, are often in the service industry, are Hispanic and are on the lower end of the income ladder.
Currently, the Family and Medical Leave Act allows eligible employees of covered employers to take 12 weeks per year of unpaid, job-protected leave for certain family and medical conditions. Such conditions include the birth or adoption of a child, the serious health condition of a family member or the serious heath condition of the employee.
Some proponents of paid parental leave go as far as to say that six weeks is still not enough, harping on the statement that the U.S. lacks in paid parental and sick leave policy in comparison to other advanced economies. Other critics of current policy question American family values.
“We can’t say we stand for family values when so many women in this country have to jeopardize their financial security just to take a few weeks off work after giving birth,” Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor to President Obama, wrote in a blog post on LinkedIn. “We can’t say we’re for middle-class stability when a man has to sacrifice his economic security to care for his ailing mother.”
The Washington Post states that a poll of prospective 2016 voters released by the Make It Work campaign found “81 percent – 94 percent Democrats, 80 percent of Independents and 65 percent of Republicans – agree that workplace rules to ensure equal pay, paid time off to care for family members and affordable child care, ‘is good for our nation.’”
While many are sure that the time is now for paid sick and parental leave (since it’s 2015, of course) others are cognizant of what any good Economics 101 professor would tell you: “There is no such thing as a free lunch.”
The New York Times reports that the plan, which President Obama will incorporate into his budget, “would provide $2.2 billion in mandatory funding — not subject to annual congressional appropriations — to reimburse states that initiate paid leave programs. The president will also request $35 million in grants to assist states working toward creating such programs.”
Challengers of the president’s proposal to increase paid benefits are focused on reducing government spending and feel it is not the government’s roll to provide such mandates. With this opinion, it will be difficult for the proposal to pass in Congress since previous plans to increase pay and benefits have not passed.
Senator Lamar Alexander, Republican of Tennessee, fears too much government control is freedom limiting. Alexander said Americans already have “great freedom” to choose a career and negotiate benefits and insisted that “one more government mandate, however well-intentioned, will only reduce those freedoms making it harder for employees to find jobs, negotiate for the things they need and open and run businesses.” Meanwhile, Valerie Jarrett will continue to urge both parties that paid parental and sick leave is not a partisan concern. While detailing the plan, Jarrett stated, “This is not a partisan issue; this is a family issue, and it’s an economic issue.”