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Paid family leave would be a paradigm shift for many workers

Meghan McCarty Carino Oct 26, 2021
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Though the Democrats' paid family leave proposal has been reduced from 12 weeks to four, it would still be a major change for Americans. hobo_018 via Getty Images

Paid family leave would be a paradigm shift for many workers

Meghan McCarty Carino Oct 26, 2021
Heard on:
Though the Democrats' paid family leave proposal has been reduced from 12 weeks to four, it would still be a major change for Americans. hobo_018 via Getty Images
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Democrats are continuing to hash out a deal to pass President Joe Biden’s social-spending bill. Though it may pass this week, the legislation is substantially smaller than its original size.

Among the items that may be pared back is the proposal for paid family leave; that could go from 12 weeks to four weeks.

The U.S. is one of a tiny handful of countries that don’t guarantee some paid family leave from work — among them Suriname and Papua New Guinea.

Offering four weeks would put us far behind most wealthy nations, but it would still be a pretty big paradigm shift for U.S. workers.

That is, if Americans’ usual reluctance to take time off doesn’t get in the way.

Four years ago, when Chris Hossellman’s daughter was born, the idea of taking an extended leave from his job as a busy trial attorney didn’t occur to him.

“I remember my boss being like, ‘Hey! Hey, Chris! Take two weeks. You know, try not to check your email too much. You got it, champ,'” he said. “And I remember being like, ‘Wow, that’s awesome.'”

Of course, he’d have to make up those billable hours. Hossellman didn’t really stop checking his email, and his newborn was still a newborn when he returned to work two weeks later.

Hossellman lives in California, where he could have taken eight weeks of paid family leave, but “it wasn’t a financial burden so much as you want to show you’re a team player and you want to get back in the game,” Hossellman said.

Even when paid family leave is available — from an employer or one of the nine state programs — it can feel hard to use, said Michelle Keefe, founder of staffing firm MomUp.

“You know, what are the other people in the office doing? How are the managers handling it? How are senior leadership viewing it and encouraging people to use it?” Keefe said.

While new moms are sort of expected to take time off, it might be different for dads. An analysis of California’s paid family leave program found it led to women taking five additional weeks off, but only a few extra days for men.

The gap is starting to shrink, however, according to Brad Harrington, the head of the Boston College Center for Work and Family.

“I think that idea, that you can offer it to fathers but they won’t take it, is quickly being realized to be a myth and not a reality,” Harrington said.

In his surveys, a majority of men take all the time they’re offered. For those who don’t, it often comes down to money. Many state programs provide only partial income replacement, which isn’t always enough for a family to get by.

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