Every two years, like clockwork, federal lawmakers have tried to pass legislation mandating paid family leave. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro (D-Conn.) introduced their family leave bill in 2013 — and again in 2015, 2017 and 2019.
In 2021, the United States remains the only industrialized country in the world where parents are not guaranteed paid leave.
President Biden introduced legislation on Wednesday that could provide new parents with the kind of financial support received in other high-income countries. The $1.8 trillion “American Families Plan,” the second installment of Biden’s landmark infrastructure bill, calls for 12 weeks of paid leave for new parents by the program’s 10th year, with the amount of leave increasing over time. The plan offers a wide range of benefits for parents and families, including $225 billion to support national paid family and medical leave, along with $225 billion for child care and $200 billion for universal preschool for all 3- and 4-year-olds.
Only nine states and the District of Columbia have enacted paid family leave policies, and, as of 2019, only 19 percent of employees could access paid leave through their employers. While the United States does mandate 12 weeks of unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act, the policy excludes anyone working for an employer with fewer than 50 employees, as well as anyone who has worked for their employer for less than 12 months.
Even if they do qualify for the FMLA, most Americans can’t afford to go without a salary. To maximize their days at home after they give birth, salaried employees try to minimize time off during their pregnancies, cobbling together as much vacation and sick leave as possible. Hourly and contract employees lack even those limited options: If they miss work to have a baby, they might be out of a job.