After years of pretending people who give birth, adopt children or care for ailing family don’t need and deserve paid time off, something is finally changing in America.
Can you feel it?
First it was Netflix declaring that it’s giving a year of paid family leave to some of its employees. Then the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced the same deal.
And now, Washington — the city, not the federal behemoth the rest of the country curses about — is proposing the boldest move yet.
Sixteen weeks off. Paid. Whether you’re part time or full time, a minimum-wage worker or a lawyer, whether you’re the mom, the other mom, or one of the dads, you get the time off. If you’ve adopted a child — no matter how old — you get it. If you’re caring for a sick relative, you get it. If you need time to recover from a military deployment, you get it. As long as you live or work in D.C. (other than for the federal government), you get it.
Paid family leave is not a luxury or socialism; it’s the norm across the globe — except in the United States.
The last time it was really addressed was 22 years ago, when the Family and Medical Leave Act was passed to allow people to take time off and keep their jobs. But, unlike the way the rest of the world does it, you don’t get paid during that time.
Maybe this issue is like same-sex marriage was five years ago. It’s about to have its moment — at last.
“Sixteen weeks is wonderful, that would be terrific,” said Sonya Shaw, 51, with a look of wistfulness.
“It’s too late for me. I had to abandon my babies after 2 1/2 weeks at home because that’s all the time I could take,” she said, still pained by the memory of leaving her newborns at day care 20 years ago. “I couldn’t afford to stay home any longer.”
That’s the sad thing about our country. We love to say we love families, but we put little muscle behind that ethos when it comes to actually helping families.
The changes — just as they have with same-sex marriage and raising the minimum wage — are coming at the state and city levels.
California, New Jersey and Rhode Island each have some kind of paid leave laws. But none of them offers more than six weeks off, and none offers full salaries.
In that sense, Washington’s proposal is magnanimous.
But hold on, don’t get wigged out that we’re going all Karl Marx on you.
If Washington passes this law and gives people 16 weeks of paid leave, it’s still not as generous as the policy in Serbia. Or Vietnam. Or the United Kingdom.
It will put the nation’s capital on par with Bangladesh.
The United States is the only country in the industrialized world — besides Papua New Guinea — that doesn’t require some kind of plan to keep its people afloat while they tend to major life events in their families.
If you live in Swaziland, Lesotho, Oman, Argentina and almost 200 other countries and you’re part of a family? You’re covered.
In our country, only the affluent can afford to take extended time off for birth, death or illness.
But the innovative bill introduced by seven council members may be the first step toward equality.
Employees would get paid from a government fund fed by employers. Every business that operates in the city would contribute between 0.6 and 1 percent of every worker’s salary.
As long as you live or work in Washington and make less than $52,000, you will get 100 percent of your pay while you tend to your family. If you make more than $1,000 a week, you will receive that and half of your additional pay.
Washington can’t force the feds or employers outside Washington to buy into the program. But there is a loophole that allows employees themselves to contribute to the fund with a small fee, then get the leave when they need it.
The legislation is a way to keep people afloat during some of the most vulnerable times of their adult lives.
State by state, city by city, company by company, change is finally coming. So we can finally leave Papua New Guinea in the dust on this one.