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Dispatches: Family Leave? Go for It, New York

New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo pledged yesterday to prioritize passing a paid family leave law this year. In his State of the State address, he reflected on his own father’s death last year. He lamented that many New Yorkers cannot take time off work to care for ill family members or newborns without risking their jobs or financial security.

This is an excellent idea. A paid family leave law would promote human rights, equality, public health, and economic growth in New York. A 2011 Human Rights Watch report (updated in 2015) analyzed the great harm to individuals, families, and children that flows from the lack of paid family leave under law in the United States.

Last year, an important bill to establish a paid family leave insurance program in New York State made headway in the legislature. It would have provided workers with up to 12 weeks of paid leave per year to bond with a new child, care for a seriously ill family member, and address certain issues arising from military service. It provided that workers would receive two-thirds of their average weekly wage while on leave, up to a cap. The benefit would be financed solely through employee payroll deductions of up to approximately 45 cents per week.

The bill passed the state assembly, but the state senate failed to vote on it. Governor Cuomo should support a similar proposal this year.

The US is an extreme outlier in failing to guarantee national paid family leave. A 2014 International Labour Organization report found that out of 185 countries, only the United States and Papua New Guinea lack paid leave for new mothers under law.

In the US, the federal Family and Medical Leave Act enables workers with new children or family members with serious medical conditions to take unpaid leave. But about 40 percent of the workforce isn’t covered, and many eligible workers can’t afford to take unpaid leave. There is no national law on paid parental or family leave. In US states without family leave insurance programs, paid family leave is up to the whim of employers. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 12 percent of US private industry workers have paid family leave benefits.

States are starting to craft their own solutions. California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island now have successful paid family leave insurance programs.

New York should be next.

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