Failing our families


By Debra L. Ness - National Partnership for Women & Families



In the United States today, whether you can take a few paid sick days or a few weeks of paid family or medical leave, and whether your employer must make reasonable accommodations that allow you to continue working through your pregnancy, all depend on where you work.

If you work in California, New York or the District of Columbia, there are several laws in place that help protect your health and your economic security when you become an expecting or new parent. But if you work in Idaho, Michigan, Oklahoma or most other states, you’re mostly or entirely at the mercy of the “boss lottery” — if you don’t have a boss who supports fair and family friendly workplaces, chances are, you’re out of luck.

And, sadly, millions of America’s families are, indeed, out of luck.

That is the core finding from Expecting Better: A State-by-State Analysis of Laws That Help Expecting and New Parents — the most comprehensive analysis to date of state laws and regulations governing paid leave and other workplace rights for expecting and new parents in the United States. It was released yesterday by the National Partnership for Women & Families, which has pioneered fair and family friendly workplace policies in this country for 45 years.

In this new study, we graded all 50 states and the District of Columbia based on their adoption of laws that offer greater leave and workplace protections than federal law provides. We found some meaningful progress in select states in recent years — but not nearly enough. Overall, our new report paints a picture of a country that is failing many of its families.

California is the only state to receive a grade of “A.” The District of Columbia and New York earn grades of “A-.” Eleven states earn grades of “B+,” “B” or “B-.”

And it is downhill from there. Ten states earn “C” grades and 15 states earn “D” grades. Most outrageous of all, 12 states earn grades of “F” for failing to enact a single workplace policy to help expecting or new parents beyond what federal laws provide.

That’s a disgrace. It means that, at precisely the time they should be focused on giving their children the healthiest possible start in life, tens of millions of parents face financial hardship from which they may not recover for years.

We have seen some progress over the past 11 years, since we first conducted this study. Between the first Expecting Better report and this one:

New Jersey, Rhode Island and New York have enacted paid family leave programs, joining California as trailblazers and leaders for the nation.

Five states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws to guarantee workers the right to earn paid sick days, and two of those laws have already been expanded to include workers who were initially excluded.

Policy advances have expanded workers’ access to flexible use of sick time in Maine, Maryland and Minnesota.

A number of states, including Arkansas, Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, New Mexico, New York, Oregon and Vermont, as well as the District of Columbia, have enacted laws to protect the rights of nursing mothers in the workplace.

Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Utah, West Virginia and the District of Columbia have passed laws requiring employers to provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant workers.

All that is positive, of course, but progress is still the exception rather than the rule. And that’s costing our families, businesses, economy and country dearly.

We need broad-based change at the state and federal levels now. If we are serious about reducing economic and gender inequalities and increasing our economic strength, we will adopt paid family and medical leave, paid sick days, pregnancy accommodation laws and other policies that yield benefits for workers, families, employers, communities and our economy.

When the National Partnership for Women & Families issued its first Expecting Better report in 2005, the world was a very different place. The policies we are promoting were new and, in some cases, untested on a broad scale.

That isn’t the case today. Today, we know that paid family and medical leave, paid sick days and pregnancy accommodations strengthen families, support businesses and bolster our economy.

These are tried and true solutions. It is past time that all states adopt these policies, and that Congress pass federal legislation such as the Family And Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act, which would establish a paid family and medical leave insurance program; the Healthy Families Act, which would set a paid sick days standard; and the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which would help combat pregnancy discrimination.

Families expect, and deserve, nothing less.

Debra L. Ness is the President of the National Partnership for Women & Families.

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By Debra L. Ness

National Partnership for Women & Families

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