Congress is poised to vote on a historic, essential, and long-overdue investment in our country’s children and families. The Build Back Better Act Paid Family and Medical Leave includes–for the first time in U.S history–federal investments in a permanent national paid family and medical leave program. This national commitment to paid family and medical leave is an important promise to the estimated 18.5 million workers each year who do not have paid or medical leave through their jobs to care for a new child, a sick loved one, or their own needs. It’s also an important promise to children. Paid time caring for family is a moral imperative that we must live up to for our children and our future because it:
Acknowledges the reality American families face when life calls. Children today are more likely to live with two working parents or with a single working parent. A parent’s ability to have time to care for and bond with their children without losing or being at risk of losing their job is critical to a child’s development.
Promotes young children’s relationships with their parents and other caregivers. Paid family and medical leave to welcome and caretake a child provides time for children and caregivers to establish connection, familiarity, and a strong bond–the kind of caring, consistent relationships that help babies thrive.
Supports the healthy development of infants and toddlers. In addition to supporting relationships that shape the very architecture of a young child’s developing brain, paid family and medical leave is associated with reduced infant and post-neonatal mortality rates. Additionally, the time to care supports parents’ ability to support children’s health, permitting them time to take children to well-child visits and keep them on track with necessary immunizations.
Supports families’ economic security. Access to leave improves economic well-being for families, including increased employment for both parents and earnings for mothers.
Improves maternal health. Paid leave supports healthy moms and babies. Studies show that paid family and medical leave improves physical health and mental health for mothers and their children, including reduced risk of postpartum depression.
Advances racial equity. Children of color are more likely to be denied the developmental benefits of time to bond with their parents because of disparities in paid leave. There are stark racial and ethnic disparities in meaningful access to paid leave, with Black, Latino, Indigenous, and Asian American and Pacific Islander workers being less likely than their white counterparts to have any paid leave. Addressing this paid leave crisis through a national and inclusive paid leave program is a racial justice issue with the potential to strengthen children and families of color.
Being there isn’t negotiable. National paid family and medical leave is one building block in a stack of policies, including the Child Tax Credit and high-quality, affordable child care, that create a solid foundation for children to grow and thrive. Congress must raise the pillars of stronger, better, and more inclusive national paid family and medical leave in Build Back Better–and beyond.