Pascrell Op-ed: All Americans Deserve Paid Family Leave
Washington, DC, July 20, 2021
U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-NJ-09) today has an opinion essay in the Bergen Record of New Jersey advocating for Congress to enact paid family leave benefits for all Americans, using New Jersey’s successful family leave program as a model.
The text of Rep. Pascrell’s op-ed is provided below.
U.S. must follow New Jersey: All Americans deserve paid family leave
By Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr.
Paid family leave strengthens every segment of a thriving society. From healthier babies and mothers, to helping businesses attract and retain talent, the positive impact of paid leave is overwhelming and unquestionable.
Conversely, workers who do not enjoy paid leave are badly exposed. Lack of benefits leaves middle class Americans financially vulnerable such that a single sudden illness or family emergency can break and bankrupt lives.
Receiving care is at the very core of humanity. At some point in life, every one of us will deserve time to heal, time to help a loved one, or time to welcome a new child. None of us should be forced to choose between our health or keeping our job.
Almost all developed countries have long understood these precepts, and each has made paid family leave automatic.
Yet the United States remains an outlier. We do not have universal paid leave. And the statistics bearing out the terrible price of our dereliction are devastating.
Without a national program, only one-fifth of private sector workers in the U.S. today have access to paid family leave. Among middle and lower income workers who need paid leave the most, a whopping 94% have no access to paid family leave.
Put another way, just one-in-twenty poorer workers are given time to care for themselves or family in an emergency. The rest must choose between their job or their health.
There is also a gigantic racial disparity among Americans who have access to paid leave. Approximately 41% of Black American women have access to paid family leave, compared to 50% of white American women. That is unacceptable.
Given these stakes, universal paid family leave is not just an economic lifeline but a moral imperative whose time has come.
In the House of Representatives, we are trying to make that time 2021.
As New Jersey’s only member of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, we are now considering the Building an Economy for Families Act. This pathbreaking legislation will finally guarantee universal paid family and medical leave and child care. Similarly, the FAMILY Act, of which I am longtime cosponsor, will pave the way to a national paid leave program. We hope to pass both this session.
President Joe Biden has made paid leave a priority too. The landmark American Families Plan currently before Congress would make titanic strides to providing equitable paid leave. When it becomes law, it will be one of the most consequential bills for the middle class we pass this generation.
We stand at a pivotal moment in our national life. The pandemic has extinguished at least 600,000 American lives. Our frontline workers have borne perhaps the heaviest cost of keeping the country alive. The price they pay and have paid is incalculable. Their sacrifices have made clear that we can no longer ignore our workers and must pass a federal paid leave program.
To get there we must avoid half-measures or flawed solutions. Paid leave programs that do not address structural barriers including low wage replacement or lack of job protection will not be enough, they will perpetuate long-seeded disparities, and they will only prevent people from being able to take leave. True paid leave must ensure access to everyone to undo decades of economic and racial inequality. Nothing less will suffice.
If we are looking for blueprints, we need no further than the Garden State, whose longtime paid leave program provides important lessons for how we can shape a federal policy.
New Jersey is in its 12th year of paid family leave, and just last year expanded the program. Our state increased its wage replacement level so that now the lowest earners will get 85% of their salary while on leave – a move research shows is critical to success. Additionally, Trenton broadened the definition of family so that all types of family structures, both traditional and modern, are recognized.
New Jersey’s leadership here should guide the whole country. No matter where you work or live or who you love, you should be able to heal or care for a family member in times of need without falling off an economic cliff.
The United States remains the only developed nation on earth without a national paid leave guarantee. That status has only widened existing gaps and divided us further. All Americans should be angry. Congress should be ashamed and imbued with urgency to finally end this failure.
Time is short and our window for action is narrow. Now is the time for universal paid family leave.