44% of U.S. workers still lack unpaid leave according to Bloomberg.
Unlike countries in the EU, U.S. federal law does not require private employers to provide any paid family leave.
Some U.S. companies use parental leave as a way to attract and retain top talent. For instance Netflix offers unlimited paid parental leave in the first year after a baby is born or adopted. Amazon also recently announced that it would expand its policy for new mothers and extend it for the first time to fathers.
Under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), employees can take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for a variety of family-related matters, but not all workers are “eligible” to take time off under FMLA. For instance employees need to have worked for the company for one full year on a full-time basis before they are eligible for the leave. Plus companies are only bound to provide this leave if they are comprised of 50 or more employees. And if employees experience a family crisis that does not qualify (e.g. they have to take care of an ill sibling instead of a child), they are out of luck.
This leaves out a lot of workers.
Recognizing the immense shortfalls of FMLA, Senator Kristen Gillibrand of NY and Representative Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut introduced legislation to Congress that would establish a program of paid family leave in the U.S.; the Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act. This insurance program would be funded by joint contributions from workers and employers to provide up to 12 weeks of paid leave to care for a child or seriously ill family member.
Women have been identified by these groups as bearing both the emotional and financial burden of caregiving in the U.S. Low-income women are seen as especially vulnerable to job loss and/or poverty because of lack of family leave protections.
According to Family Values @ Work, “nearly one in ten Americans have to go on public assistance while they’re on leave to care for a newborn or family member; for low-income families, that number is one in five. And nearly 3 million people a year who need to take leave don’t, because they just can’t afford to.”