New push for family, medical leave &mdash; <em>with</em> pay

KAI RYSSDAL: That savings figure comes wrapped up in a more complicated economic report that was out this morning.

It's called personal income and outlays. How much we're making and how much we're spending. It's one of those reports that's on the A-list because consumers drive about 70 percent of the economy. As you might have figured from the negative savings number, outlays were up a healthy seven-tenths percent last month.

Millions of Americans have taken advantage of the Family and Medical Leave Act. But millions more haven't. It's time off to take care of a family member, but without pay.

Today, Democratic Senator Christopher Dodd

announced he'll introduce a bill to expand the law that he first steered through Congress nearly 14 years ago.

From the Marketplace Work and Family Desk, Sarah Gardner reports.


SARAH GARDNER: Right now, federal law gives American workers 12 weeks unpaid leave to have a baby or care for a sick child or other family member. But many can't afford to lose a paycheck for three months.

That's why Dodd is proposing six weeks of partial paid leave. Dodd and the National Partnership for Women and Families have tried to expand family leave before and failed. This time, however, the Democrats are in power. Deborah Ness

is president of the Partnership.

DEBORAH NESS: It's a bill that's likely to have some real legs and I think we're in a climate when members of Congress are very anxious to support working families.

Dodd's effort comes amid worries the Bush administration may try to water down the family leave law.

The Labor Department recently requested public comments on the act and how it's working. Business groups have long complained the law is easily abused and hurts productivity.

But researchers at Harvard and McGill universities released a study today showing the U.S. is the worst of all affluent countries when it comes to family leave.

Jody Heymann

co-wrote the study.

JODY HEYMANN: What the top business leaders rank as the most competitive economies, all of them but the United States provide all these benefits.

The McGill/Harvard study surveyed 173 countries. 168 guaranteed some sort of paid time off for new mothers.

The five that didn't? Papua New Guinea, Lesotho, Swaziland, Liberia and the United States.

I'm Sarah Gardner for Marketplace.

About the author

Sarah Gardner is a reporter on the Marketplace sustainability desk.

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