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Paid family leave good for United States

Mary Catherine Connors

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In his State of the Union address, President Obama introduced a plan to offer paid leave programs for federal employees. Paid sick leave and benefits have been continuously evolving in policies over the last 50 years, but paid leave for mothers and fathers is a new issue. It’s uncharted territory, at least in the United States.

In a study of 185 countries by the International Labour Organization, the United States and Papua New Guinea were the only countries that failed to offer legislatively-mandated paid maternity leave. The other countries in the study offered at least a percentage of the mother’s income as a cash benefit during her absence. As for private companies, only 12 percent offer paid family leave, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. And it’s almost impossible to begin talking about paid family leave, considering that the United States is just starting the crawl toward paid maternity leave.

Paid family leave is essential for the well being of our workers and their families. Mothers should not be punished for having children, and fathers deserve the same treatment as an equal member of the household. Not only do children deserve the chance to bond with both of their parents starting at birth, but they deserve parents who aren’t going broke in the process.

President Obama signed a memorandum in mid-January that will provide paid family leave for federal employees. With this kind of momentum, it’s not irrational to say that paid family leave programs could extend into national legislation.

Some argue that new paid family leave programs will hurt small business. Unlike multi-million dollar companies like Google that already provide paid family leave, small businesses lack the funds and compensating resources to offer such benefits. But even after reviewing the cons, the question arises of whether we value the worker over the work.

There are ways to help small businesses pay for these kinds of benefits. We just have to find the right way. Australia, for example, created a system in which small businesses were pardoned from fronting the high costs of family leave. The Australian Parliament implemented the Paid Parental Leave scheme. Companies with a taxable income over five million dollars are taxed to pay for the family leave program, while other taxes were cut in the process to make up for the disparity. Women receive most of these benefits through the program and men a smaller portion.

Perhaps the United States should steer toward a similar program. An option would be to offer tax credits to companies that voluntarily contribute funds to such a program in an effort to avoid making big businesses contribute the entire cost.

None of these programs are perfect, and they never will be. We can only hope to attain an economy that can support our families and children without hurting business in the process or discriminating among those businesses. But, to pose the question again with regard to human rights, when asking whether we value the worker over the work, the answer should always be yes.

Mary Catherine Connors is a sophomore majoring in 
mathematics and economics. Her column runs weekly.

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Paid family leave good for United States