EDITORIAL: Paid leave bill makes needed expansion
NJ takes step to confront neglect of women’s welfare in workplace
While hard-fought progress has been made for gender equality in America, institutionalized practices continue to hinder women in the workforce. The ordained ability to give birth has received patriarchal condemnation for the burden it places on companies. We have turned our backs on those who provide our future. We have stolen opportunity from those who give us the next generation. In the name of efficiency and profits, women face scrutiny in hiring for their potential to have maternity leave in the future, and if hired, they are neglected by society and government in the event that they require a leave of absence.
As a nation, we are a global outlier for our treatment of pregnant women in the workforce. The Family and Medical Leave Act requires that businesses allow for three months of maternity leave. But, this leave is unpaid and the law only applies to firms with more than 50 employees.
“The U.S. is absolutely the only high-income country that doesn't, and as you can tell by the numbers, overwhelmingly the world provides it," said Jody Heymann, founding director of the World Policy Analysis Center at UCLA, in an interview with NPR. "The world not only provides paid maternity leave, but they provide adequate paid paternity leave."
We are the only industrialized nation without a federal program, yet both Democrats and Republicans support the creation of a federally-funded paid parental leave initiative. The absolute minimum recommended by the United Nations’ International Labour Organization is three months. With our disillusioned grip on the concept of leaving social issues for private enterprise to solve, only about 1 in 10 workers in America have the option to receive paid parental leave from their employer.
Rather than perpetuating the indifference towards working women and undermining their economic liberation from patriarchal restraints, New Jersey will be improving its paid maternity leave program after Gov. Phil Murphy (D-N.J.) signs the bill expanding our state’s family leave program.
The expansion to how much money is received and for how long it is received will take effect July 1, 2020. Previously, New Jersey residents received paid leave of up to two-thirds of their weekly wages, with a maximum of $524 per week for six weeks. This bill will extend the pay to 85 percent of one’s weekly wage up to a maximum of $860 per week and benefits will last for 12 weeks. Those eligible to receive the benefits are also expanding.
While paid leave was once only for those taking care of a child, parent, parent-in-law, grandparent, spouse or domestic partner, now other relatives such as siblings and grandchildren are included. In a move that recognizes the reality of sexual violence in America, one “may also qualify for benefits to care for a family member who is a victim of domestic or sexual violence,” according to NJ Advance Media. All the while, the bill will guarantee that the job is there upon return, ensuring job protection to employees of firms with 30 or more workers.
Paid leave programs have been shown to improve “child health, promote gender equality and help keep women in the workforce.” Studies of the effect of California’s paid-leave law, which has been in effect since 2004, have shown that the law led to an increase in hours worked and income for mothers with young children. International studies have revealed that paid leave is linked to lower poverty rates in 18 countries.
With the rise of single-parent households, an increasing percentage of households with mothers as the sole or primary bread winner and nearly half of two-parent U.S. households with children of parents working full-time jobs, paid leave is an essential necessity for the welfare of America. The new bill brings New Jersey a step farther down the path that all industrialized nations have already traveled, but our lack of a federal program reveals our shameful, ingenuine commitment to the welfare of the people and the patriarchal apathy enshrined in our institutions.
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