Laura Bliss is a staff writer at CityLab, covering transportation and technology. She also authors MapLab, a biweekly newsletter about maps (subscribe here). Her work has appeared in the New York Times, The Atlantic, Los Angeles magazine, and beyond.
The proposed 16 weeks of paid leave could make a big difference for many caring for a new baby or sick parent.
In Washington, D.C., a proposal to give employees 16 weeks of paid family leave has gained overwhelming support from the city council.
If it passes, the city would offer the most generous paid leave in the country, doubling the length of time that any existing state-level program affords employees to bond with babies, care for sick relatives, or recuperate from their own illnesses.
D.C. earners of up to $52,000 a year would be fully compensated for their wages by the city. Workers who make more than that—a large share of D.C. residents—could receive a maximum of $3,000 per week. A sliding-scale levy system among D.C. employers would generate the funds.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has voiced its opposition to the bill, warning that a leave program fully funded by employers “would be unprecedented and make the District of Columbia dangerously uncompetitive.”
Mothers in California who took leave were 6 percent more likely to be working a year later than those who did not, according to [a] study [from the] University of Virginia. That matters because the percentage of women who work in the United States has been declining.
In New Jersey, in the year after giving birth, women who take paid leave have been about 40 percent less likely to receive public aid or food stamps, a Rutgers study commissioned by the National Partnership for Women and Families found.
That’s to say nothing of benefits for families of dads who take leave; they wind up spending more time with their children long after the period of compensation ends. Studies have also shown that when parents take time to bond after a birth, health outcomes for babies can improve.
But D.C.’s measure would extend to anyone who needs time to care for a family member in need—whoever that may be. The bill would apply to single-parent households, caregivers for older relatives, LGBTQ individuals, and crucially, low-income workers. D.C. has the highest child care costs of any city in the country. The plan would expand paid leave from being a benefit offered by high-paying employers to something all residents, regardless of job type and income, could rely on.
Current federal policy allows up to 12 weeks of leave for a qualifying event, but that time isn’t required to be compensated.
In his last State of the Union address, President Obama cast paid leave as one small step to addressing In the country’s gaping economic disparities. Given that both parents in a household must often work to make ends meet, “It’s time we stop treating child care as a side issue or a women’s issue, and treat it like the national economic priority that it is,” he said.